THE GARDEN RULES
After swallowing an acorn sweetmeat, Sylva is transported to a fantastical forest and begins training as a nymph at the behest of her faun master. But before she earns the right to please him, she must complete three tantalizing trials.
THE DRAGONMAID’S SECRET
On the king’s orders, a mercenary has come to ransack the village of Roussillon. But when he confronts the town’s defender, the dragonmaid Isabeau, he is overwhelmed by the most fiery passions—for this rogue is, in fact, a dragon-shifter.
RAVEN TAKES A PEARL
Pearl is a captive of Master Raven—part man, part crow, part machine. And as she submits to the curious probing of the dark-winged inventor, Pearl discovers that her body responds with an all-too-human demand: desire.
THE KELPIE’S PRIZE
Dragged beneath a fairy pool by a mechanical horse, Vivi finds herself held prisoner by an alchemist claiming to be Merlin himself. Now, to escape an ancient curse, she must play the wanton seductress—and use her body to secure the release she craves.
WILLA AND THE WISP
In the bayou that covers the long-ago flooded city of New Orleans, Willa uses light to keep her safe from the creepers. She never expected that light to take the form of a brightly glowing man—an enigmatic lover who ignites the flame within.
THE DRAGONFLY PRINCE
In post-apocalyptic Ireland, a virgin gives her hand in marriage to broker peace with a genetically modified race. But when a human rival challenges the dark prince’s claim, so begins a duel that will push the fair maiden to the limits of pleasure.
Before She Wakes is intended for mature audiences. This ebook includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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The Garden Rules
PORTLAND, OREGON—A FEW YEARS FROM NOW
“Your life would be richer if you weren’t so afraid.”
I stared at the tarot reader. She was easily five years younger than me. Probably more. Was she reciting from a script? It was a fact of life that people were afraid of the things they wanted most, but they usually didn’t figure that out until they had a few decades behind them. At that point they chalked it up to self-preservation—it was comfy being crabby and rigid.
Or maybe that was just me.
“It’s like you’ve been editing your entire life. Going along day to day, judging moment to moment, never really present, or knowing what it is you really want.”
“Are you for real?” Yep, I said it out loud.
She gave me a smug smile. I scowled at her teal Ganesh tattoo, smirking at me from under his trunk. Cheeky elephant bastard.
Who gets mad at Ganesh? And why am I the one acting like a child?
“Thanks,” I murmured ungraciously, rising from the table.
As I turned to exit the tent, she chirped, “Enjoy the festival,” with annoying emphasis on the word “enjoy.”
The nerve of her, in her hippie-ass, yoga-toned, champa-scented, pantheistic superiority.
How dare she be right.
By the time I reached the food carts my hands had unclenched, but I’d lost my appetite. Which was a damn shame, because you could find stuff on the menu at the Garden of Earthly Delights Fair that you could find nowhere else. Chocolate-covered everything, from figs to bacon to grasshoppers. Champagne-flavored gelato. Passion-fruit cupcakes. The aroma of roasting meat dominated everything—bison, boar, venison, pheasant, and some so exotic I hadn’t a clue. I loitered around the beer garden, easily half the size of a soccer field, but too much noise. Too many sweaty bodies. Ditto for the wine flight tent.
But I needed something.
I closed my eyes and listened to the strains of live music drifting over the throngs. Portland orchestral pop from the bandstand to the north, mingling inharmoniously with a Renaissance air from more immediately south. High above them, in circus announcer tones, I heard the sweetmeats barker and felt a Pavlovian rush.
At last year’s fair I’d bought a baker’s-dozen bag of the recreational narcotics. Like truffles, they came in every shape, color, and flavor. One token each, or thirteen for ten. I’d made that bag last a whole year. My job at the university didn’t pay me enough to take vacations, but sweetmeats I could afford.
I’d never eaten one in public, but maybe today would be different.
Grinding my heel into the grassy hillside, I headed for the adults-only section of the fair. I flashed my ID at the security guard and strode past booths crammed full of sexual implements that ranged from intriguing to terrifying. There were tents for the procurement of cannabis and all the accompanying paraphernalia. Tattoo and piercing artists. One tent I passed had a table just inside the entrance where a customer was having work done right there in real time, only a clear plastic curtain between her and the passersby. An odd little cry erupted and I paused to gawk. A woman wearing something that looked like the top half of a Wonder Woman costume lay there spread-eagle, a rubber-gloved man focused intently between her bare legs. She winked at me and slung a leg over the man’s shoulder as he was rising.
I was not the most in-touch person with my body. I’d signed up for yoga several times because everyone said it helped you relax, but I’d never made it to more than three classes. There was no mystery about what was going on in my body now, though. As I continued toward my destination, I couldn’t exorcise images of the woman’s spread-open legs. The little hitch in her cry that hinted the cause was something more interesting than pain. The curve of the piercing-man’s biceps, and the way he’d settled back between her thighs when she threw her leg over him. Had he touched her after I’d passed? Even pressed his lips to the tissue he’d just damaged at her request?
Apparently my body had resumed its progress toward our destination, sans pilot. I studied the man before me. He wore clown makeup, but none of the other accoutrements. He had spiky black hair, a chiseled bare chest that displayed a snake tattoo, and hot-red (same color as the nose) leather pants.
He smiled a bizarre clown smile. The effect with the spiky hair was unsettling. “Eve will be happy to help you.” He drew open the tent flap.
“Eve.” I glanced at the sign above the flap. THE GARDEN, it read, and beneath the words was an illustration of a green man with an oversized acorn cap for a hat. My feet seemed to grow roots.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” urged the clown’s voice, the reassurance tinged with a side of amusement at my expense.
What is this, a goddamn conspiracy?
I uprooted my feet and strode into the tent.
At first I thought the woman on the fat sofa within was a child. But she was just a very small person. And contradicting my expectation of animal skins and a fake snake for an accessory, she wore a neat coral-pink suit.
“Welcome to The Garden,” she said with a bright smile, motioning me to the chair across from her.
Between us stretched a low table covered with small gold-and-green boxes. Bright as the boxes were, their contents were subdued in comparison. Nestled inside each one, in what looked like Easter grass made from recycled paper, was a candy acorn the size of a cherry.
“This is an exciting day for you,” said Eve. The vibration under her voice suggested she was pretty excited herself. I wondered if she’d be able to keep that up all day. How many people had been admitted to the tent so far?
I lifted my eyebrows, studying the luxurious tower of chestnut hair atop her head. “Is it?”
Eve nodded, and I admired the structure’s stability.
“Our sweetmeat has just been approved for commercial use. As we are Portland-based, we’ve chosen the Garden of Earthly Delights Fair as the point of distribution for our beta group.”
“Beta…Doesn’t that mean something’s still being tested?” I’d dated a software developer for a while. It was hard to avoid in this part of the country.
“I assure you we are fully safety tested and approved. But we are eager to improve our product based on customer feedback. So eager, in fact, that we are offering our sweetmeat free of charge for the duration of the festival.” She lifted one of the boxes from the table, removed the lid from the bottom, and closed it. Then she held it out to me. “All we ask is that you call the number on the card inside the box to schedule an interview within two weeks of trying our product.
“Thanks, Eve…” I said slowly, eyeing the box like it had fangs. “But I’m not sure I’m feeling quite that adventurous.” If you weren’t so afraid…“Maybe I’ll visit you again next year and buy a few boxes.”
“Of course,” she said, her lipsticked smile not slipping a fraction. She placed the box on the sofa next to her. “Next year we’ll offer them for twenty tokens each.”
I stared at her. “Twenty tokens for one?”
“You only need one.”
Small pink salesperson, 1. Me, 0. I held out my hand. Her smile brightened, and in a motion too quick to detect with the human eye, the box was transferred to me.
“You won’t be disappointed.”
“What does it do?” I asked, opening the box to study the innocuous-looking nut.
“Are you a virgin?”
I glanced up, my mouth hinging open.
“You’ve eaten sweetmeats before?”
She nodded. “This is the same thing, but a much more vivid and sustained experience. Like you’ve taken four at once, but with no unpleasant side effects. You’ll also find it more realistic than your garden-variety sweetmeat.” She chuckled at her own pun. “We don’t see the point in mixing in a sedative. You won’t feel like you’re under the influence.”
I wasn’t sure that last point was in the plus column, but I kept it to myself. “You mean it’s more like a VR game?”
“Yes, very much like that. You’ll have the sense that you’re not in control, like a dream you can’t escape. But it’s all driven by your subconscious, and you can stop anytime you want.”
I frowned. Sweetmeats were regulated narcotics, not simulators. “How do you stop it?”
“You use our safe word: Dorothy.”
They were mixing their cultural references, but the context would make it easy to remember. And it wasn’t a word anyone was likely to say in the course of regular conversation. But something didn’t add up.
“How can a sweetmeat respond to use of a safe word? It’s just a drug, isn’t it?”
Her smile tightened infinitesimally. “I’m afraid that’s proprietary.”
It was all well and good for Tammy Tarot to tell me I needed to stop being afraid. I was even self-aware enough to admit she was right. But you had to draw a line somewhere. I imagined heroin to be an amazing ride, but not so amazing was the part where you were thrown in prison for knocking over liquor stores.
It’s not heroin. It’s an approved recreational drug. Certified non-addictive.
I rose with the box in my hand. “Dorothy.”
Eve repeated, “Dorothy.”
Since she chose to interpret it as confirmation of the safe word, so did I.
“Offering another of her perfectly pink smiles, she said, “Enjoy the festival.”
When my back was turned I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t Eve’s fault the universe was conspiring to push me off a cliff.
“Look for your sponsor when you arrive,” she called as I reached for the tent flap. “He or she will help you adjust to your new environment.”
Sponsors and safe words and twenty-token sweetmeats. “Right,” I said, ducking out of the tent.
I carried my treasure out of the adults-only section, past the food carts, and all the way down to the river, continuing to walk until I found myself on the outskirts of the festival. Sinking onto a grassy bank overlooking the Willamette, I opened the box to examine its costly cargo. Pushed it around with my finger.
It had about the same heft as an acorn, and the same sugar-wax coating of other sweetmeats I’d eaten. Really, it looked like nothing special. Did I dare? I glanced around at the smattering of folk relaxing on the green of the waterfront park: a couple making out on a faded quilt in the sunshine, a woman reading a book and drinking a giant smoothie, a man throwing a ball for his dog.
Waiting until I got home would be the prudent thing to do—unless something went wrong with the “fully safety-tested and approved” acorn. There was nobody at home to call for help, not since the last in a line of uninspiring boyfriends had moved out three months ago. But I’d experienced some vivid…hallucinations on sweetmeats, and I wasn’t sure how much of that my physical body had mirrored while I was out of it.
I decided I was overthinking it. I’d never eaten a sweetmeat that had rendered me completely senseless to my surroundings. I could park myself in the shade of a willow tree on the riverbank in relative privacy and still be within shouting distance of help if I needed it.
Resting my back against the tree trunk, I popped the sweetmeat into my mouth before I could talk myself out of it. Soft like a truffle, with a maple sweetness that was less cloying than most of its kin, the acorn melted on my tongue. I would have happily eaten a bagful of the things. I recalled I’d skipped lunch.
Too late to remedy that now.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
These sexy forbidden fairy tales will definitely keep you up reading all night instead of putting you to sleep. The stories are fast paced and all very different. It is an amazing journey to travel to these different worlds. The stories are erotic with very interesting characters and fascinating stories. I really liked it.