The Portal In The Park [NOOK Book]

Overview

Springtime is blooming in Manhattan when Julie Daniels takes a break from her dance research at the Lincoln Center library. Her visit to an unfamiliar coffee shop renders an eccentric gentleman who serves up more than the average latte. After blending a little magic in her drink, he sends her to a grove hidden deep in Central Park. In addition to the usual flowers and trees, Julie discovers the woodlands also contain mythological creatures. The lusty fauns and seductive nymphs who appear have traveled through a ...
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The Portal In The Park

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Overview

Springtime is blooming in Manhattan when Julie Daniels takes a break from her dance research at the Lincoln Center library. Her visit to an unfamiliar coffee shop renders an eccentric gentleman who serves up more than the average latte. After blending a little magic in her drink, he sends her to a grove hidden deep in Central Park. In addition to the usual flowers and trees, Julie discovers the woodlands also contain mythological creatures. The lusty fauns and seductive nymphs who appear have traveled through a portal in the park. The exotic creatures entice Julie into a realm of passion beyond her wildest dreams, and she embraces the carnal pleasures they offer. When evening approaches, Julie awakens from a nap to find the magical beings nowhere in sight. And even more frightening, neither is the coffee shop, where the strangeness all began! Julie would like to write off the bizarre occurrences as a dream, or perhaps an hallucination, but her sated body and spirit convince her otherwise. She's left to wonder how and why this strange day began--and if it's really ended... Genres: Fantasy / Witchcraft / Magic / Menage (F/F/M) / Group Sex / Bisexual Activity (F/F) / Voyeurism / Exhibitionism / Public Places
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940000138366
  • Publisher: Amber Quill Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 208 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Portal In The ParkShara BloodstoneErotica/Fantasy2008 by Shara BloodstoneCONTROL: PUBLISHER="Amber Quill Press" PUBURL=www.amberquill.comCOM:TOCSTARTCOM:TOCEND
* * * *
THE PORTAL IN THE PARK
By
SHARA BLOODSTONE
* * * *
ISBN 978-1-60272-204-0
Amber Quill Press, LLC
www.amberquill.com
* * * *

Also By Shara Bloodstone

Gift With Purchase
Gotcha!
My Comic Valentine
Private Audition
Sultry Urban Nights
Urban Ambrosia
* * * *

CHAPTER 1

Julie Daniels pushed aside the doors of the darkened library to greet a sunny afternoon. She squinted from the sunlight glinting off the grayish granite of the vast Lincoln Center complex. Her mind was saturated from studying videos of Broadway musicals over the past three weeks. She'd spent every weekday viewing "Into the Woods" and "Cabaret," in preparation for the upcoming summer stock season she'd been hired to choreograph in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Think I'll grab a cup of coffee and a snack.

She slung her knapsack over her back and headed toward the fountain glimmering at the heart of the great plaza.

The light May breeze loosened golden tendrils from the hair she'd pinned up in a bun for ballet class that morning. She lifted her face toward the big yellow ball in the sky and welcomed its heat. The Mayday warmth freed Manhattan from its winter doldrums and lightened her spirit. Even the gurgling fountain bubbled with joy, an elixir for lingering bleakness.Dressed in jeans and short, suede boots, her toes tapped with jubilance as she crossed the plaza. She hopped down the staircase to stand at the crosswalk facing Columbus Avenue.

As usual, the Columbus Avenue traffic was too treacherous to try and zigzag through by going against the light. Julie's legs twitched with impatience as she forced herself to wait by the curb until the green man signaled her to walk. She stared at the triangle of grass growing in the park across the street, at the lush trees growing there, and at the statue of the great writer and teacher for whom it had been named. A bartender friend of hers had told her that the statue was the great, mystical poet, Dante Alghieri. Julie recalled her friend's obsession with Dante and his otherworldly visits. How that girl would carry on, saying, "Dante went to hell and back, and now--lives in Manhattan!"

Julie chuckled.

Welcome to the new hell on earth.

She sighed and admonished herself for being overly cynical.

I guess it all depends on what you make it.

As she crossed the street, her preoccupation with Dante's visit to the underworld gave way to an image of sipping a fluffy latté at an outdoor café.

She turned left onto Broadway and veered toward the gourmet coffee shop she frequented. A crowd of people outside apparently shared her desire. Lots of folks were taking advantage of the temperate weather by sitting outside for drinks. All the seats at the café tables were taken.

Julie peered through the planes of glass at front of the café. Inside, a small horde had gathered. The crowd congested the shop while chatting, eating ice cream, or drinking coffee.

Forget it--there are, like, thirty-five people in there, most of them still waiting in line. I don't do lines, not even for a latté.

Since the weather was fine, she decided to seek out another coffee shop, maybe turn down a side street where it would be less crowded.

She glanced up and down Broadway. The place across the street looked busy and didn't have different coffee choices, such as this one offered. The next place, farther down, had zero ambiance. She shrugged.

Guess I'll be adventurous.

She turned left and headed north.

At Sixty-Third Street, she felt an inkling of familiarity, as though she ought to turn in there. She wasn't sure why or where she was going, but she went with an inclination to find out. She'd passed by a slew of doctors' offices and a lawyer's co-op when she spotted an oval-shaped sign, more than halfway down the block. The sign appeared to be antique, its yellow coat of paint cracked with age. It was peculiar, compared with the slick, modern look of all the others adorning the rest of the street. Julie guessed it must have been crafted way back when, in the early part of the twentieth century. Sticking out of the side of the building, it hung in a brass, curlicued frame. Fancy letters had been hand painted in scarlet to announce: "Ye Olde Coffee House." Below that, smaller letters further described, "Specialty items from around the world: coffees, teas, spices and herbs."

How interesting, Julie thought. Wonder why I've never noticed that place, before.

She crossed to the other side of Sixty-Third and headed toward the coffee house. Amazingly, she barely glanced at the clothes in the window of the "NY Attitude" on her way. Ordinarily, she wouldn't have hesitated to stop and drool over the trendy clothes displayed in both front windows. Today, however, her interest had been so piqued by "Ye Olde Coffee House," clothes just didn't seem as important.

I can't believe I never saw this "Shoppe" before. Maybe it's new.

One glance inside made her think quite the opposite.

The dark, lacquered floorboards looked as though they'd creak if she pressed down with all her weight. Once she got inside, however, scattered throw rugs muffled the sound of her walking and squeaking. Since no one was there to greet her, she stopped and took a look around.

On the wall to her right, wooden cabinets ran all the way up to the ceiling. The shelves were unpainted and finished to bring out the beauty of their raw wood. A fascinating assortment of glass jars lined each shelf. Julie saw that they contained herbs, spices and teas, while some yielded dried flowers. She recognized lavender and dandelions among unfamiliar pink and crimson flowers. Dried fruits, nuts, even small sticks, filled jars. An assortment of dried leaves in gradations of color, from light green to dark green to black, filled more glass containers. And, she noticed, varieties of dried mushrooms were displayed, too.

Julie sniffed the air: a delicious aroma permeated the store. It seemed to consist of cocoa and vanilla and other spices she was unable to discern.

She glanced toward the other side of the store, opposite the shelves. A wooden counter flanked by ten or twelve wooden stools extended along the length of the wall. Behind it, in the working area, stood an intriguing assortment of odd-shaped coffee makers and brewers. Large metallic teapots were arranged haphazardly around coppery espresso makers, coffee presses and bean crushers. Julie noticed steam rising from somewhere over there and sniffed the air again.

Do I smell almonds now?

Whatever the scent was, she started salivating in expectation of a hot, yummy drink. Even in the warm weather, Julie preferred a good, hot coffee to something iced.

She took a few more steps inside and stopped by the picnic-style wooden table at the center of the room. She removed her knapsack and placed it on the tabletop, craning her neck to see around an open door at the back of the store.

The unexpected sight of a man coming through that door, all of a sudden, gave her a start. He was tall and slender, with a shock of thick, white-hair.

"Oh!" she gasped, placing a hand to her heart.

The elderly man maintained his cool and didn't miss a beat.

"Quite all right," he said in a smooth, dignified voice. "I didn't mean to startle you."

Julie blushed. "Oh, sorry. It's okay. I guess I got lost in looking around at all the neat stuff you've got here."

The man chuckled. "Yes, we do have a lot of 'neat stuff' here. Are you thirsty?" He pushed back the hip-high swinging door and went behind the counter. "I'm brewing a lovely concoction this very minute. A delicious blend of imported beans and fragrant spices and such you won't find anywhere else in the world. Quite original, I assure you."

"Oh? Original?"

"Yes. I do love concocting my own brews. You see, I've traveled and studied the brewing secrets for different beans and herbs and whatnot from indigenous peoples all over the world. Now, I create libations to my own taste, sharing my creations with my customers. I like people to try things they'd never get anywhere else. Well, individuals with a sense of adventure, that is. My concoctions are not for everyone, I suppose. Your average drone will go to the local deli and order a nondescript cup of java with no sense of missing something far greater in life. Others see my store and simply must come in to share a cup of other-worldliness with me."

The man's eloquent elocution, as well as his choice of words, had a mesmerizing effect on Julie. She felt giddy with the idea of trying a novel drink, specially brewed by this interesting fellow.

She smiled at him. "You know something?"

"Perhaps a thing or two."

She looked at him, mystified, for a moment, then laughed.

"That's good," she said. "You actually listen! And you're funny."

"Yes," he replied, "I do listen. As for being funny, well, that may be in the eye--or, rather, the ears--of the beholder."

Julie giggled at the subtle humor from a man exhibiting such an erudite appearance. She took a better look at him.

Lean, he stood at least six feet tall, dressed in a light blue, button down sweater over a white shirt. Julie noticed the symbol of gold fleur-de-lis woven throughout the royal-blue tie he had on. A gold stickpin in the form of an eagle with spread wings held the tie in place.

Julie watched him don gold spectacles, which he pressed with care over each of his ears. Once he had them duly in place, he peered at Julie as though she were a specimen of some sort, his bright, blue irises magnified by the lenses.

"So," Julie said, "you're a world traveler."

The man suppressed a smile and nodded. "Worlds, within worlds, within worlds."

Julie furrowed her brows in thought.

"Huh," she said, "isn't that interesting."

The man laughed. "Oh, pay no attention to my philosophical meanderings. Let me assure you, however: I make one heckuva cup of coffee!"

"Well, that's good to know," Julie said with a chuckle. "So, what do you recommend today?"

The man turned and retrieved a dainty china cup from one of the many shelves lining the walls behind the counter. Holding the cup by its saucer, he turned the spigot of an ornate copper pot and let the brew fill the white and gold cup while he spoke.

"This is a magical blend. Quite savory, if I do say so myself. I made a special trip to Greece and retrieved some fascinating products unique to that region. It's all in the soil, you see."

"The soil?"

"Mm-hmm. Always pay attention to the dirt, for it produces particular characteristics in the flavor of whatever is grown in that environment. The influence is purely indigenous. The unique aspects of seeds planted in Greek soil--or Mexican, or South African, or anywhere else--must be induced by native wise men who know how to manifest the potential of their particular terroir."

"Mmm, how interesting," Julie said. She inhaled the blend of scents that permeated the air. None of the delicious aromas now tempting her nose was solely recognizable, though.

The man placed the china cup before her.

Julie bent down and inhaled the steam rising from the liquid. "Do I smell mint?"

The man dipped his head to one side and thought about it, then nodded. "I do believe I slipped some mint into that blend of beans and whatnot."

Julie smiled. "You remind me of Peter O'Toole."

"Peter O'Toole!" The man let out a little snuff of laughter. "Fancy that! That's the first time I've ever been likened to him."

"Maybe it's the accent." She clasped the cup's golden handle between her fingers and lifted it to her mouth.

"Careful you don't burn yourself," the man warned.

Julie sipped the fluffy white foam off the top of her drink and smacked her lips.

"Ooh, that's different. I don't think I've ever tried anything quite like it before."

"Probably not," the man said in a low voice.

She continued sipping the layer of foam until she reached the brown liquid beneath it. She licked her lips to savor it, said nothing, and sipped some more.

Julie felt the man watching her, but continued drinking, unperturbed by his gaze.

Halfway through it, she put down her cup and cocked an ear toward the background music she'd hardly noticed until that moment.

The gentleman asked, "What is it?"

"That music--it's DeBussy, isn't it?"

The man tilted an ear toward the nearest speaker and listened.

"I believe you're right."

"I know I am! That's the "Prelude to the Afternoon of A Faun," by Claude DeBussy. Based on Mallarmé's poem."

The man came out from behind the counter and walked toward the wooden table where Julie was seated. He folded his arms and leaned against the nearest set of shelves.

"I must say," he said with raised eyebrows, "I'm impressed by your knowledge."

Julie lit up with excitement. "Well, see, I've been over at the Performing Arts Library, doing some research. But I got to looking at the pictures in the Jerome Robbins dance collection and I got stuck on Nijinsky as the faun. He choreographed it in Paris, like, almost a hundred years ago."

"Has it been that long?"

"Well, let's see, it was nineteen-twelve, if I remember correctly. That's almost a century. Anyway, it was scandalous, very scandalous, for the time."

The wizened man removed his eyeglasses. His blues eyes sparkled with greater intensity as they bored into Julie's. Without removing his gaze, he asked, "And why was that?"

Julie blushed. "Well, it was, see, the mores of the time. People weren't used to such an open expression of, well ... it was very suggestive, I guess you could say."

The man sounded teasing when he asked, "Suggestive, you say?"

"Mm-hmm. Very ... sensual in nature."

"Ah. A time when social improprieties, based on fear, forced the individual to repress all natural inclinations. Amongst them, the urge to express one's sexuality."

"Well, yes, as a matter of fact. It was considered--well, rather erotic. At the time--"

"Eroticism onstage! Imagine that."

"Exactly! Nijinsky really blew the audience away with that final, uh, gesture he made. So I read."

The man chuckled. "Final gesture?"

Julie blushed again. She wanted to kick herself for bringing up the topic in the first place. She sipped her coffee in an effort to avoid further questions. The man, however, was not content to let the subject drop.

An impish grin lightened his wizened features. "Do tell--what was his final gesture?"

Julie groaned at the directness of his question. She screwed up her face, indicating her dilemma at being considered rude by refusing to answer, but risking crassness in saying it to an older man she'd just met for the first time. She knew she was responsible for starting this whole conversation, but the more she thought about it, the more embarrassed she became. She scratched her head and pursed her lips without saying anything.

The man chuckled. "That bad, was it? Nijinsky, that fiendish rogue, did something so nasty onstage a hundred years ago you can't tell me about it? I'd venture to say our society remains woefully repressed, even to this day."

Julie laughed. "Nijinsky wasn't a fiendish rogue by any shake of the imagination! He was an incredible dancer, and a superb actor. Super sensitive, too. He literally metamorphosed into whatever role he played. So they say."

"So they say." He leaned back, still waiting for her to answer his question about Nijinsky's final gesture.

She let out a sigh. "I'm sorry. I guess it's me. It's just ... I feel weird saying it."

"Oh, but, really. We're both adults. I'm not as naïve as I look. Come on now, out with it."

Julie blushed but gave in to his entreaty. "He, well, he made a masturbatory gesture."

The man looked at her a moment, then burst out laughing.

"A masturbatory gesture, indeed," he said. "Oh, that's rich! And correct, I might add. You are most correct in defining his gesture as such." His laughter continued until it dwindled to a twitter.

Perplexed by his response, Julie was nevertheless glad he'd found her description humorous.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the man said. He returned to a placid demeanor. "Don't mind me. Please, finish your coffee."

Julie swallowed the last drops of brown liquid. When she brought the china cup down, she noticed a silt-like residue left in the bottom. She was swishing it around when the man reached out for it.

"May I?" he asked.

"What? The cup?"

"The traces at the bottom. My great aunt Eurydice taught me the art of divination using coffee grounds."

As Julie handed him her cup, an odd buoyancy coursed through her movements, and her arm felt strangely light. When she retracted it, weightlessness overcame her torso, too. Her mouth stretched into a silly grin for no particular reason beyond the pleasure produced by the sudden lightness of her being. While the man studied the sediment at the bottom of her cup, Julie experimented with the airiness coursing through her head.

She moved her chin around in little circles, experiencing what she likened to the onset of an endorphin high--except, she hadn't exercised since morning. She started giggling to herself, swishing her skull from side to side, amazed by the incredible lightness she felt with each back and forth movement. She moved her noggin around in more creative patterns, making little jiggles, then wiggling it in spiral arcs. Each variation of movement produced the most pleasurable feeling.

I feel like I'm high on something. But since I haven't gotten high on anything besides wine since college, I couldn't say what this feels like at all!

She started to panic with the thought that perhaps she was ill. She wanted to see if she could get a grip on this curious feeling by simply willing it to stop. She decided to take control of her mind by focusing her attention on specific objects around the store. While deciding what to look at, she noticed another set of shelves, farther back from the one baring scads of dried herbs, flowers and mushrooms.

She noticed a slew of pyramids arranged on one of the shelves, and statuettes of Egyptian gods. She recognized Horus, the falcon-headed god, and Sekhmet, the goddess with a lion's head, among them. There were also renditions of mythological creatures, and Greek and Roman gods, for she recognized Artemis with her bow and arrow. A few other statuettes appeared to be of Incan or Mayan origins. And there were a bunch of what appeared to be African deities, about which she was clueless. Her eyes scanned these statuettes along the shelves until they dropped down to a set of objects displayed on a small table.

She looked more closely at the collection, resting her eyes on a smooth, onyx carving.

How odd. If I didn't know better, I'd say that looks like a penis.

She blinked a couple of times, looked away, then back.

Maybe I don't know better, because that is a penis!

On closer inspection, the onyx penis was merely one of many. The more she scrutinized, the more cocks she could see. On that table, she discovered penises carved from a variety of materials, including amber, wood and semi-precious gemstone such as carnelian and azurite.

She swallowed and looked at the elderly gentleman so politely reading the residue at the bottom of her cup. Before she said anything, the man looked up. His blue eyes locked onto hers.

"So," he began, "where are you headed, from here?"

"Home, I guess." She stood. "I'm walking home. Through the park."

"Excellent idea. Silly to waste this fine, spring day--the first week in May, no less. The park is just the place to visit on a day like today."

"Yes, it seems like a good idea." Julie marveled at how light her legs felt, too. The knapsack, however, seemed heavy when she lifted it and slung it over a shoulder.

"Have you been over to the Rambles?" the man asked.

"The Rambles? In the park?"

"Mm-hmm. Just beyond Cherry Hill. Are you familiar with it?"

"I think so. Sometimes, though, when I try to find little nooks and crannies in the park, I get lost. The woods can get thick, especially in that area."

"Mmm. There's a magical quality about wooded areas. Vaux endeavored to maintain certain of the terrain's original aspects. He sculpted it, added to it, rather than destroying it all for rebuilding."

"Vaux?"

"Central Park's designer. A true nature-lover."

"Oh. Neat." She paused. "Well, if I can find it, I'll be sure to stop there."

"It's simple. Follow the path to Wagner Cove until you come to the grove of cherry trees--they're still in bloom. Follow the incline down, and you're sure to find the Rambles. It's beyond the far end of the small lake. The air there is crisp and clean, unlike the rest of the city. A hidden haven of tranquility."

"Sounds stunning."

"It is. If you reach Bethesda Terrace, you've gone too far. Just head back toward the smaller fountain."

"Okay. Thanks."

When she started to leave, he spoke again.

"Now that I've told you how to get there, I guarantee, you won't miss it."

Julie smiled and nodded. When she turned to depart, she noticed a gleam around the periphery of her vision and stopped. She tried to blink it away, but it wouldn't disappear. It was as though a halo of light enveloped the edges of everything she looked at.

"Is everything all right?" the man asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," she lied. "I think my eyes are just tired, that's all. Too much time watching dance videos the past couple of weeks."

She turned to leave, but whipped right back around. "Oh--I almost forgot! What do I owe you for the coffee?"

"Oh, please, don't worry about it. That was on me. It's not every day a beautiful young woman comes into the store. A woman of depth and artistry, too. It's my pleasure to treat you."

"Well, if you're sure..."

"Absolutely. Thank you for coming in and making my day."

"You're welcome. Thank you. It was nice to meet you."

"Lovely meeting you."

A foot or so from the door, she stopped and turned again. "By the way--what did you read at the bottom of my cup?"

The man drew a breath and smiled. He fixed his sharp, blue gaze onto Julie's eyes.

"I saw that a metamorphosis awaits you. A sexual awakening, if you will."

Not at all what she'd expected to hear, her mouth dropped in shock. "Oh! Really!"

The man chuckled. "It will be most pleasant, I assure you."

Such an impudent remark from someone she'd thought was refined derailed Julie's poise. Between his comment and that crazy collection of carved, male members on the table, she was completely discombobulated. She had to catch her knapsack from falling off her shoulder while hurrying to grab the brass door handle with her free hand. Just as she managed to get the door halfway open, the man called out to her. She halted and hesitated. A moment later, she turned halfway round.

"What now?" she asked with suspicion.

"Just be careful," he said, "crossing Central Park West."

Exasperated and impatient to get the heck out of there, Julie pulled the door open with such a start that she just missed knocking it against her forehead.

She heard the man let out a hearty laugh as she swung it to a close behind her.

* * * *

CHAPTER 2

As Julie walked along Sixty-Third Street, her legs felt so rubbery she had to make a point to concentrate on where they were going. With each step, the sidewalk seemed farther and farther away. It seemed she had to force herself to make contact with the ground. Then, the very idea of it struck her funny bone and she cracked up laughing so hard, she had to stop and get a hold of herself. When she stopped laughing, she resumed walking, listening to make sure her toes were reaching the cement.

Wow, am I lightheaded. It's like I shifted, somehow, from being normal to being high on pot. Only, I'm not high. And I'm not even sure I feel that way, from the couple of times I ever tried it. It's more like--magic, or something. Magic in my muscles!

Again, she cracked herself up and her shoulders shook with giggles.

It's like my fairy godmother touched me with her wand and made me light up or something.

She bent over with the giggles. Panting from excessive laughter, she looked back to see if the woman who'd just passed by had heard her.

She must think I'm nuts. Hmm, I wonder...

She lifted her head and walked on.

At the corner of Central Park West, she waited for the traffic to abate. After a moment, no cars were coming from the left, so she started to cross before the light had changed. Slowing down toward the center of the avenue, she waited to let the cars from the right finish going by. As the last car in the line passed, she got ready to rush over to the park side of the avenue. The sudden realization that a car was heading straight for her jolted her backwards, and she froze. She hadn't seen the Volvo speeding out from behind the Toyota she'd thought was last in the line of traffic. She caught herself just in the nick of time. Fortunately, the driver had seen her before she'd seen him, and swerved out away from her.

She caught her breath, swallowed, and marched over to the sidewalk by the park.

God, get me into the park right now, away from all this traffic!

She hoped she could navigate her way to Cherry Hill and beyond without getting lost.

The sidewalk she followed stretched down into the park along a gradual incline. That pathway then branched out, one fork descending deeper into grassy hills, the other leading to a path beneath a bridge. She followed the one along the hills in search of the promenade.

She was frowning as she walked, thinking about the elderly gentleman's warning. Just before she'd left his store, he'd told her to be careful crossing the avenue.

I wonder if he warned me because he knew that was going to happen. Actually, I wonder a few things right now. Like, why do I feel as if I'm made of light? And what about all those penises, so casually displayed? That collection was awfully strange ... incongruous to him and that place. Incongruous, that is, until his prediction about me having a sexual awakening! What's up with that? I was afraid a bunch of gremlins were going to appear out of nowhere, tie me up, and rape me.

She chuckled. As she walked on, she rubbed her eyes in an effort to clear the glow from the periphery of her vision.

And this is strange, too, this odd light around everything I see. Maybe I'm just overtired; too many hours watching videos, taking apart dance steps, writing down minutiae. Maybe I burst a mental gasket in the process.

She followed the joggers' trail filled with red tulips, which led her to the upper portion of Bethesda Terrace. Dragging her hand along the top of the cement balustrade, she crossed the terrace. At the top of the staircase, she stopped and gazed across the stone platform stretched out below, beyond the angel fountain.

Odd as he was, I can't deny the man had a good suggestion about going to the Ramble section on this beautiful spring day. I think I'll head back toward the cove.

She started back until the pathway offered her a turn-off into denser woodland. The afternoon sun dangled high in the sky, effusive in its warmth, as she trekked toward the green oasis in her quest for natural bliss within the city. The mysterious aura blurring her outer vision now blended in with the sunlight, casting a golden glow over everything she looked at. As she walked along, she grew sleepy. She longed for a soft carpet of grass on which to take an afternoon nap.

A few minutes later, Bethesda Terrace was far behind her. Up ahead, a thicket of trees beckoned to her. Already, she could see the thick, green fronds filtering the sun's bright rays into mere splashes of light that danced between shadows. As she descended an embankment, a hush enveloped the magnolia trees that were just losing their bloom. She walked around fuchsia rhododendron growing in abundance.

Julie crossed a grassy floor spread out between embankments of trees. She drew deep breaths of clean, oxygenated air. Enshrouded in vegetated stillness, she listened to the magnified singing of warblers and blackbirds, crickets clicking, and the occasional rivet of unseen frogs. She reveled in her solitude, happy to relax in a peaceful place away from noisy street drilling, subway cars, and traffic.

The turf shifted into a shallow incline. As she followed the curve of the terrain, she caught sight of pink blossoms up ahead. The incline opened into an orchard where dozens of cherry trees in magnificent bloom stretched out to her left. She crossed the field leading into the orchard.

On her way to the thickest section of cherry trees, a field spread before her. She was surprised to see somebody lying on the ground ahead. She slowed her pace as she got closer to the blanket and stopped a few feet away.

Oh! That's not somebody ... that's two bodies! And it looks like they're getting it on.

In an erotic entanglement, the entwined couple pushed and pulled at each other. They writhed in between books sprawled out on the ground around them.

Guess they're taking a little break from their studying.

She watched for a moment, but kept a discreet distance and veered down yet another incline, over to her right. When the incline turned out to be steeper than she'd anticipated, she ended up scurrying down to avoid slipping into a fall. As she skipped along with her eyes on the ground to avoid brambles and rocks, a figure ran past her. Once the incline evened off, she turned to see who had hurried by. She was surprised to see clumps of purple and white azaleas and nothing more. She listened to the oak trees' leaves ruffled by the breeze and narrowed her eyes.

I could've sworn I saw somebody--a girl, I thought--run right by me. Hard to say, though, with this halo mucking up my field of vision.

Just to be sure, she decided to have a look around. She stood in one spot and turned a counterclockwise circle, searching the grove for people. At one point, she stopped again, thinking she'd detected movement twenty or so yards away. She watched that spot for a moment, but no one appeared. She continued turning, scanning the next arc of woods. Again, she stopped, squinting her eyes to hone in on another movement she caught, over on the opposite side of the field.

Nothing. Just wind over tall grasses, I guess.

Arms akimbo, she completed the circle without seeing another human being.

Nobody. Then why does it feel like somebody's near?

She slid her knapsack down her back and let it fall to the ground.

Maybe I'm picking up on the two lovers getting it on, up in the cherry trees.

She let out a little snigger of laughter and froze.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear somebody just laughed along with me.

Hairs on end, she cocked an ear to the wind ... nothing.

Man, I'm losing it. Let me lay down here for a while.

She untied the sweatshirt from her waist and laid it on the grass. She reached her arms up overhead and stretched before she sat down, arranging her knapsack behind her. She lay back on the sweatshirt and propped her head against the makeshift pillow of her knapsack. The lacy green overhang filtered the sunlight into mellow rays. She basked in the panorama she saw haloed in the strange light seeping into her field of vision. Her breathing slowed. She relaxed in the warm air and her eyelids flickered with increasing drowsiness. As she started dozing off, she heard delightful strains of music wafting through the otherwise silent grove of trees.

Mmm, that sounds like a flute ... how lovely.

The not-too distant melody danced across the warm breeze that quivered across her skin, enchanting her as she slipped into a dreamy state of repose. The little strains of laughter accompanying the music seemed apropos. She smiled and let her mind be lulled into deeper sleep.

Julie had not been snoozing very long before she came back into awareness. The flute's melody grew louder, and the strains of laughter were interspersed with verbal buzz.

Groggy, she tried to rouse herself.

I'd better open my eyes for a look around and see who's come into this grove.

That seemed a monumental task, however.

As she lay there thinking about it, the music stopped. She listened with greater attention to the strange silence that now enveloped her--no flute, no laughter, no birds, no wind. Unnatural silence was all the impetus she needed to open her eyes.

The leafy latticework overhead refined the sunlight into streams of light, like Mayday ribbons stretched along the grassy floor. Julie admired the tranquil, translucent bands of honey-colored light. After a moment, she rolled her head on the knapsack to the right. Beyond the eye-level grass blades, she viewed a periphery of oaks and elms. Nothing beyond the norm emanated from the foliage in that direction, so she turned her head and gazed down the hilly incline to her left. Movement below caught her eye and she sat right up, drawing her breath. At the sight of two girls leaping and laughing, she exhaled with relief; they seemed to be playing a game of some sort.

She relaxed and leaned back against her knapsack.

As she lay there, however, she furrowed her brow.

Something about those girls is--unusual.

She sat back up for a better look.

One of the girls had long, flaxen curls down her back. She was doing a leg extension, using what appeared to be exquisite ballet form. Julie watched one of the girls execute a perfect développé.

Reaching her arms straight up over her head, the flaxen-haired girl drew her left leg up into a bent position, with her toes pointed in toward her right knee. She then extended the bent leg straight out to the side, at what was almost a one hundred eighty degree angle. At the same time, she was balanced up on the bare tiptoes of her right leg. Julie was impressed with the girl's form, agility and grace, but she was blown away as she watched further.

Still on her toes, the golden girl bent her standing leg and sprung straight up in the air, leaping so high that she was suspended there in a graceful pose. After a moment, she floated with ease back down to the ground.

Julie was amazed. After all, she'd just watched this girl defy the laws of gravity.

Julie glanced at the other girl. She was also beautiful, her soft, brown, waist length locks interwoven with colorful flowers. This girl clapped and laughed at her friend's surreal antics, then trotted across the lawn. Using several little steps to work up speed, she burst into a great leap that also defied the laws of gravity. Julie was stunned to see the brown-haired girl jump so high that she was able to extend her front leg out in front of her, while bending back at the waist. At the same time that she bent her torso back, she brought her rear leg up and, in bending it, kicked that foot toward the back of her head. She had seen ballet virtuosos do this leap before, but never had she seen anyone hover in the air for as long as this pretty dancer did.

Julie kneeled up to get a better look. She remained dumbfounded when the girl stayed up in the air, four feet off the ground, for a length of time beyond the norm. After several more seconds, the girl seemed to release herself. With her landing, she skipped along the grass doing intricate little dance steps, whirling and laughing.

The two girls appeared young, around eighteen or nineteen years old. Their garments were translucent drapes of an ethereal-looking fabric blending pastel colors together, which perfectly suited the hair and skin tones of each. The girl with golden curls down her back wore wisps of fabric in pinks and soft yellow, while the girl with long brown waves was clad in blue-green tones.

On closer inspection, Julie noticed they were barely clad, at all. While the breezy swatches of fabric accentuated their fluid movements, the strips of cloth barely covered their torsos. A strong gust of wind came along and drew back their garments to expose their perky breasts. Julie watched how unconcerned they seemed, laughing as their bare breasts remained uncovered with their pink nipples fully exposed.

As Julie watched further, the girl with soft, brown hair stopped and stood still. She reached a hand out and caressed the other's bare breast. The golden girl stepped in closer, and Julie watched as they brought their heads together. She was amazed to see them bring their lips toward one another and share tender kisses. She swallowed when she saw the golden girl's hand slide up beneath the flimsy fabric of the brown haired girls' wispy dress to massage her derriere.

Wow, that's pretty funky. Guess they figure they're hidden in this part of the park.

While she felt guilty of voyeurism, their lack of inhibition didn't compel Julie to look away. Not until she heard the strains of flute music start up again did she turn from the entertainment the pretty girls provided. Her eyes sought the direction from which the melody originated. Over to her right, beneath a canopy of leaves, surrounded by small pine trees, asters and goldenrod, she discovered the player.

Some fifteen to twenty yards away, seated with his back against an oak, a young man fondled the reed instrument he held to his mouth, blowing into it with just the right force to elicit the lovely tune she'd heard wafting on the breeze. Naked from the waist up and with well-muscled arms, Julie recognized the instrument the man mastered with delicacy. It was the same type of panpipe she'd heard Peruvian musicians play down in the subway from time to time. She craned her neck for a better look at the voluptuous youth who coaxed from it a sensual, magical melody.

She watched him crouched against the tree, wondering what he was wearing on his legs. She raised herself higher to get a better look.

At least that blasted halo's finally gone away.

She admired the young man's beautiful profile, while his lips made love to the reed flute. Thick, shiny, auburn-colored hair curled on his forehead, just over his ears, and around the nape of his neck. She wanted an even closer look at this beautiful creature.

As though he sensed her thoughts, the young man lifted his head and, lips still breathing music through the flute's mouthpiece, he connected his gaze with hers.

Julie felt every inch of her skin blush. Shocked by the intensity of her own reaction to his gaze, she couldn't control her heart rate from increasing with the pump of desire that flooded her body. She swallowed and pushed back the loosened golden tendrils the wind kept blowing in her eyes. This sudden surge of lust-at-first-sight was an entirely foreign reaction to Julie Daniels; she'd always prided herself on keeping a cool head, especially when it came to men.

What in the world is wrong with me! Must be the heat.

She sat back on her haunches to get a hold of herself while she continued listening to the youth's extraordinary music. After a moment, another figure appeared. Julie watched as a young woman stuck her torso out from the other side of the oak tree where the young man was seated. The laughing girl's long, thick mane was also auburn in color. Julie also noted that the young man knew exactly who stood behind him without looking up, for he ceased playing the panpipes and, with a graceful gesture, handed the instrument back to her without so much as a glance.

Julie watched him rise.

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped when he stood in his full glory.

A magnificent creature emerged, the likes of which she would never have believed real had he not been standing on a slope less than fifty feet away from her.

Her eyes followed the contours of his physique. They moved downward, from the auburn hair she'd admired on his head, to the soft, red-gold triangle between his perfect pectoral muscles. Downward her eyes continued, to his ripped abdominal muscles and the well-defined obliques of his waistline. That's when uncontrollable tremors shook Julie; she wasn't sure whether it was fear, excitement, or a blend of both. But, as her eyes slid down to the line of soft hair extending from below his navel, she noted the fantastic growth of what appeared to be fur on his hips, covering his pelvis, following along his thighs, and melding into his calves. In fact, she could not deny that the well-defined muscles of his thighs were altogether covered in fur, like that of a four-legged woodland beast, such as a moose or a deer. Indeed--the lower half of the young man's body and legs were covered in soft, auburn fur.

Julie blinked.

Maybe I can blink it away, like that light.

She blinked again, but there he remained. She forced herself to take a good, hard look at his entire body in search of a rational explanation.

Hard to deny he's got that mythological look about him, being half-man, half-goat.

She stared at the young man walking toward her on animal legs.

Yup, he's one of those, all right.

She jolted up off her knees. After her initial shock subsided, she forced herself to advance a few steps before stopping to stare, again, at this exotic creature. His candid, relaxed approach was meant to put her at ease; of that, she was certain. She practiced deep breathing while her eyes trailed down his body.

She didn't bother feigning discretion in her appraisal of his hips, thighs, calves, and, finally, his feet. What she saw sent electrical impulses coursing through every nerve fiber in her body. Her brain, thrown into a desperate state of confusion, tried to make sense of what she witnessed.

The gorgeous young man's sturdy, fur-covered legs made contact with the earth by means of his hooves.

As though watching an episode of "Animal Planet" or "Discovery," Julie found herself observing with detached fascination as he swaggered toward her on hooves--hooves such as those of a ram or a goat.

She was so freaked out, numbness overrode her fears and she slid into nonchalance.

Huh, fancy that. He doesn't have feet--he has hooves

But, at the same time the impossibility of it swirled through her mind, she continued seeking a rational explanation.

Maybe he's an actor, in costume. A renegade from a nearby Renaissance Festival, or a fair, or the circus.

She scrutinized him with greater intensity.

Okay, so maybe he's a hallucination. I'm tired. I could be seeing things. Or losing my mind.

She rubbed her eyes and looked at him again.

Nope, he's still standing there, as sure as I'm standing here.

And here she was, in the middle of New York City's Central Park. Unless the guy was wearing really good special effects for a movie being shot nearby, what she was looking at defied all logic.

I'm looking at a gorgeous guy ... with the bottom half of an animal! And he's real--as real as I am.

The creature must have read her thoughts, because she heard him say, "Yes, I'm real. I'm not an image, not a dream, not make-believe. You're looking at the real me."

Six feet away, he stopped and smiled.

Julie shook her head.

She was looking at a faun.

* * * *

CHAPTER 3

The faun hung two yards back from Julie. He studied her with open interest, his citrine eyes shining in the sunlight, aglow with anticipation.

She opened her mouth to speak, but remained speechless as it hung slack. When she closed it again, she lifted her chin in determination, found her courage, and took two steps closer. When she stopped, she focused her gaze on the faun's lips, the color of cabernet wine. They were lifted in a sensual smile, so Julie took another step and waited. The faun waited, too. His expression, she noticed, had a quality of lust about it.

When Julie cleared her throat to speak, a rush permeated every inch of her skin, reminding her of electrical sparkles. She thought she'd been plugged into something, but feared the intensity of it might cause her to pass out. She concentrated with all her might on forming appropriate words, wondering if he, or it, spoke English.

"I, uh, may I ask you something, sir, if it's all right?" she managed to squeak out. A wide grin came to the faun's face and she heard him answer, "Please do."

Okay, so he does speak English. Yet, he did so without moving his mouth.

She waited a beat, took a quick breath and continued.

"Are you a man, or, uh, are you an ... well, I don't know how else to put it, so I hope you don't mind me saying it like this--but are you human or animal?"

The faun reared his head back and laughed, showing great, white teeth.

Julie shivered with delight at the increased arousal his musical laugh provoked in her. The laugh reminded her of water cascading down a mountainside, except that this washed over her flesh. It intoxicated her, his laugh. She found herself wanting to stand closer to him, to reach out and touch this fascinating form of masculinity. She took another step and shortened the gap between them. The faun seemed to will her forward again, for she was drawn to step closer, stopping two feet away.

"So," she repeated, "you're--you're an animal, or a man?"

Without moving his lips, he told her, "I am neither, and yet both."

Talk about ambiguity.

The faun laughed. "That's funny," he said.

She stared at him. "What's funny?"

He repeated her thought: "'Talk about ambiguity.'"

"But, how did you know what I thought?"

He chuckled. "How can you hear my words when I'm not moving my lips?"

She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped. Instead, she focused her thoughts. With her mind, she asked, "So, you can read my mind? Are you telepathic?"

"I am. But so are you. We're having a conversation, aren't we?"

She nodded. "I guess."

"Well, there you have it, beautiful human. We can speak with our minds, and save our mouths for more glorious forms of expression." He gave her a grin. "Cuts down on the earthly time involved in getting to know each other."

Julie raised an eyebrow, amazed at how easy it was to speak with him now. Her thoughts flew with curiosity.

"So ... you're a faun, or are you a satyr?"

"A faun, of course. Your first instinct was correct. Satyrs are usually bearded fellows, and somewhat more aggressive. Now, my sister there, Boradea--"

He motioned toward the young woman playing his panpipe, seated beneath the tree where he had been.

"Boradea likes to play with Satyrs. She prefers more aggressive fun."

Julie looked at the woman he'd called Boradea. She was leaning back against the tree, relaxed, playing a dreamy tune. On closer inspection, Julie saw that her long, auburn colored hair was covering her naked torso. And when she dropped her eyes down to take a good look at Boradea's legs, she saw auburn fur, just as with her brother.

Oh, my--that can't be!

"Ah, but it is, of course," the faun explained. "She's my sister, after all."

Julie's eyes shot toward his legs, then up to his face. With her mind, she asked, "What's your name?"

"I am Faunus, Son of Pan, descended from Dionysus, kin to Hermes." He gave her a little sideways tilt of his head, nodding as an urbane gentleman might. Julie had the feeling he was toying with her in doing so.

She didn't form this thought into words, but she sensed the creature's keen instinct had detected her impression. She felt him reading what she'd felt, even without her putting words to it. He held her gaze and offered a guileless expression.

"I may be many things," he said, "but disingenuous I'm not. That I can assure you."

She started to argue by telling him she'd never thought that, when he extended his muscled arm to her.

"Come," he said in a milky tone. "Let me show you the depth of my sincerity. You're not afraid of me, are you?"

Julie felt her reservations dissolve. She reached out a hand and placed it in his. "No," she thought with intention. "Well, I don't think so, anyway."

Julie marveled that she felt comforted when Faunus wrapped his large, warm hand around hers and pulled her to him. Not more than six inches from a faun! She marveled at how large he was up close.

Powerfully built, she imagined he stood almost six feet four inches tall, on full hooves. When she breathed in his scent, she felt even more drawn to him. He emanated clean earth, fresh grass and faint lavender. Julie detected cinnamon, too, and turned her nose up at the base of his throat to inhale the skin there. There, she smelled fresh moss intermingled with other pheromones she didn't recognize but found attractive. She thought no man had ever smelled so good. The pulse of her pussy pounded with desire.

The faun's long lashes drooped over his sparkling golden eyes and she felt him inhaling her scent, too.

As the faun breathed her in, Julie felt the parting of a veil around them. The veil wasn't something she could reach out and touch, but, rather, a vibration that seemed to emanate from a subtle sensory level, finer than the purely physical. A golden web of energy was being integrated into the air around them, she sensed, as well as into her own aura, touching the spirit deep inside her body.

She knew that whatever was happening with this energy, it had to be good, so powerful grew her desire for this creature. The golden light inhabiting her body was also manifesting the most powerful sexual arousal she'd ever known. She had to hold herself back from an impulse to sink her teeth into the faun's flesh and hump him at the same time.

Clasping Julie's hand in his, Faunus looked deeper into her eyes. With a soft, seductive quality, she heard him say, "Touch me. Go ahead. Don't give into fear now, human beauty."

Julie reached the palm of her hand up to his chest. She pressed it in and spread her fingers across his flesh, petting the smooth skin of his muscled breasts. She plucked his nipples with her fingertips and plied the red-gold curls growing around his sternum. When she ran her palm down along his abs, her hips began to rotate with desire, as though they had an agenda all their own. She opened her mouth and took a deep breath. When she exhaled, she stepped back and, still looking into his eyes, touched him below the waist.

Okay, she warned herself, take this slow. No need to rush.

"Never rush," Faunus answered.

She blushed. "Yeah, right. I've got to get used to you hearing my thoughts."

The faun nuzzled his nose down into the bun on top of her head. His words reverberated with a soft and gentle echo through her mind.

"It brings us close, the mind talk, and keeps us honest."

Julie chuckled and relaxed even more. She reached her left hand out and felt along the great faun's hips.

The skin there grew, quite naturally, into auburn-colored fur. Julie's fingers explored the ridge where the skin ended and the fur began. She stroked the coat along his hips as though she was petting a giant cat, then ran her palm down along his thigh.

Her thoughts gurgled one after another, excited and turned on.

Oh, this fur is soft, much softer than I'd have imagined.

"Thank you," the faun said.

With ardent strokes, she caressed his thigh. Even when she sensed he was watching her with amusement, her zeal remained unfettered. Her desire to explore this fantastical being increased by the second. It amazed her how aroused she became while touching him.

She might have lost herself in him at that very moment, except for the sudden burst of giggles that erupted in her mind. The giggling wasn't hers, so whose was it? She turned her head and saw the two girls she'd seen leaping earlier.

The flaxen-haired female had stifled her giggles enough to drink from an earthen cup. With an earthen jug in one hand and a cup in the other, the brown-haired girl offered a drink to Faunus.

Julie heard the faun say, "Yes, Tichi, thank you."

In a seemingly effortless motion, he moved Julie over and leaned her against his side as though she was a puppet or large doll, before reaching out for the cup Tichi extended. Julie clung to him, entwining his powerful, muscled mass with the slender curves of her body. She fancied herself a wanton figure similar to ones she'd seen painted on ancient Grecian pottery in museums.

Faunus brought the cup to his lips and drank with such longing that Julie, too, craved a sip. Watching him guzzle the liquid was further stirring her desire for him. Fires burned from the core of her being in preparation for play with this eccentric entity.

Julie watched Faunus take the cup away and run his tongue over his lips. He maintained eye contact and made an exaggerated effort to lick off each and every drop of liquid from his mouth. He then offered her the cup. When she parted her lips to drink, he helped her steady the cup between them. Her nose sensed the aromatic blend of grapes before her tongue tasted the delicious liquid. The cool, red wine that slid down her throat dissipated any lingering inhibitions that may have been lurking to thwart her from acting on desire.

After Julie had drained the last drop of wine, Faunus brought it away from her lips. She dropped her hand along his waistline to continue exploring where his skin met the fur growing from his hip. She dared to drop her hand farther down, along the groove between his inner thigh and groin, and massage the hot, damp fur in there. When his erection sprang to life, she jumped. It popped up, immense, and smacked her on the wrist. Eyes wide, she pulled away to get a better look.

Oh, my--that's one major organ, you've got there. You are one virile--should I call you a faun? Or are you a god?

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