Excerpt from GODDESS OF THE ROSE (release date - March 06)

Okay - here's a little part of the first scene where my heroine, Mikki, and the "Beast," who is Guardian of Hecate's Realm of the Rose, interact. The set up is that Mikki accidentially broke the spell Hecate had placed over her Guardian, (which turned him into a statue that eventually showed up in Tulsa's Municipal Rose Gardens), and transported both of them out of the modern mundane world. Mikki finds herself Hecate's High Priestess, or Empousa, in the realm where dreams and magic originate. She's just completed casting a sacred circle and performing the initiation ritual which binds her to Hecate. Now she's alone on the balcony of her room, trying to eat dinner...still thinking that it's more than likely that she's stark raving mad...

“Well,” she said aloud, lifting her glass in a solitary toast. “Here’s to insanity. May it always be this enchanting.”
Raising the goblet to her lips, she paused, brows drawn together in confusion. Floating in the middle of the tiny scarlet sea was a rose blossom, so deeply red that it appeared almost black.
What the heck was a flower doing in the middle of her glass of wine? Not sure of the correct protocol for rose blossom extraction from wine, Mikki glanced from the table to the crystal goblet. Should she pull it out with her fingers? Or was she supposed to use a fork? Maybe a dessert spoon would be more appropriate?
“I can’t even call for a new glass,” she muttered, thinking that finding a rose bud in her wine was a perfect punctuation mark to a truly bizarre day. “What would I say? Hey, waiter, or in this case, handmaid, there’s a rose in my soup, uh, glass, uh, wine.” She shook her head and laughed aloud. “Doesn’t it just figure?”
“The Ancients believed that a glass of wine could not be fully enjoyed unless there was a rose blossom afloat within it.” The deep, powerful voice rumbled from the area of the balcony that was shrouded in the darkest shadows. “It is a belief to which I adhere.”
Mikki jumped and fumbled with the glass of wine, almost dropping it.
“Forgive me for startling you, Empousa.”
“I just wasn’t expecting a…” Mikki faltered, trying to see through the shadows. She could discern only darkness within darkness, but she didn’t need to see him. She knew to whom the voice must belong. Her stomach tightened. She took a deep breath and pulled the blanket more securely around her shoulders, suddenly very aware that she hadn’t changed from her ceremonial dress that exposed far too much of her body. “I thought I was alone,” she said, amazed that her voice sounded so normal.
“I did not mean to disturb you. I came only to see that you grounded yourself after the ritual.”
Mikki stared blankly in the direction of the faceless voice. Ignoring the rose blossom, she took a long drink of wine. It was him – the statue – the beast from her dreams. Unlike her voice, her hands could not hide their emotions so easily and she had to wrap both of them around the goblet so that their shaking didn’t clatter the crystal against her teeth.
When she didn’t respond, he continued speaking in that deep, rough voice that was at such odds with the civilized words he was saying.
“Again, Empousa, I ask that you excuse my lack of judgment. I thought only to see that all was acceptable to you so that your grounding could be completed. I did not intend to disturb, or to discomfort you.”
She stared into the dark space from which the voice originated.
“You did all of this?”
“I directed the servants, yes. Empousa, you must always remember to eat and drink after you cast the sacred circle and perform any ritual. In that way you will once again be grounded to this world. If you do not you will feel weak and sick at heart.”
Mikki had to swallow down a hysterical bubble of laughter. She was conversing about post-goddess ritual rules with the living statue of a beast who talked like a college professor in a voice that could have belonged to Godzilla.
She was totally fucking Loony Tunes.
Mikki took another long gulp of the wine. This time the scent of the rose bud tickled her nose and she noticed the way its elusive sweetness heightened the richness of the wine. She put the goblet down and looked out across the table. Fine linens. Transparent porcelain china. A crystal goblet and pitcher etched with a rose design. Plates heaped with carefully chosen delicacies. A blanket and warm, comfortable slippers. He had ordered all of this for her?
Mikki glanced at the corner of the balcony, then hastily averted her eyes and poured herself some more wine. His silence was making her even more nervous than his words. Had he left? Was he sneaking up on her?
The erotic chase scene from her last dream flitted through her memory, causing her cheeks to flush and nervous words to rush too loudly from between her lips.
“I didn’t know about the grounding thing. And everything is delicious. I guess I owe you my thanks.” She wanted to bite her lip at her idiocy. She guessed she owed him her thanks?
“You owe me no thanks, Empousa. I am Guardian of this realm, and as such it is my duty to see to the welfare of those within the realm, which includes Hecate’s Priestess,” he said gruffly.
“Oh, well,” she mumbled, feeling awkward and not knowing what to say, but wanting to be polite. “Still, I appreciate–”
“Do not!”
She felt the force of the command against her skin. It battered her and made the flush that had heated her cheeks drain white and cold. Hecate’s assurance that the beast wouldn’t harm her seemed only weak, faraway words. Mikki pressed her hands into the arms of the chair and bunched her legs under her, preparing to sprint for her room. Maybe he wouldn’t come in the castle. Or maybe she could call for help and…
“Forgive me. It seems I have again frightened you. That was not my intention. It is just that your appreciation is not appropriate. It is simply my duty and my life. It is why Hecate called me into her service. Do you understand?”
He was clearly trying to modulate his voice to a softer, less intimidating register. She recognized the attempt, even though he was being only partially successful. Instead of answering right away, Mikki took her death grip from the chair handle and, two-handed, lifted the wine glass to her lips. After she’d had another fortifying drink she stared into the darkness again. This was ridiculous and twice as scary because she was talking to a disembodied voice and letting her imagination fill in all the gory details of his appearance.
“I’m trying to understand, but it’s not easy. Especially when I can’t see you.”
There was a long pause, and it felt to Mikki as if time suspended. Then he stepped from the darkness. The crystal goblet slid from between her numb fingers and shattered against the marble floor. He made a movement like he was going to approach her and with a rush of adrenaline, Mikki surged to her feet, knocking over her chair with jerky, panic-laced haste. Shards of broken crystal crunched under her feet.
Instantly, he stopped his approach. “Have care where you step. The glass can cut through the soles of your slippers.” The words were meant to be gentle, but the voice that spoke them rumbled with an inhumanly thunderous warning.
Mikki couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t make her vocal cords work. She could only stare at the creature. Then he sighed and it was in that lonely, wordless sound that she heard the echo of a familiar roar. That one small thing pushed through her panic, allowing her to draw a gasping breath.
“I did not come to you tonight to harm you. You have my oath that you are in no danger.”
Her lips felt cold and numb, but she forced them to speak. “You’re the statue. The one from the rose gardens.”
He nodded his massive head. “Yes, you have known me only as I was in your world, entombed in marble amidst the roses. Now that I have awakened I have resumed my rightful position as Guardian of the Realm of the Rose.”
Mikki brushed a shaking hand across her forehead, trying to clear her mind.
The creature took a step closer to her, his hooves thudding inhumanly against the silent balcony.
“No!” She blurted, her blood pounding in her ears. “Stay away!”
As if to show that he meant no harm, he raised one huge hand toward her, palm up. Except for its size it appeared normal, but Mikki was sure she caught a flash of the candlelight glinting off something sharp and deadly. She stared at his hand without blinking.
He closed the hand and let it fall to his side where it was enveloped in shadow. “I was only concerned that you might faint.”
“I’m fine,” she said automatically, but she did pick her way carefully between the broken glass, righted her chair and sank into it before her legs gave way. “I don’t faint.” She forced herself to sound as normal as possible. He said he wouldn’t hurt her. Hecate said he wouldn’t hurt her. And, anyway, if he was going to attack her it would do no damn good for her to hyperventilate and freak out. She clasped her hands together to stop them from shaking. “Really, I’m fine,” she repeated, more for her own assurance than his.
“You should eat,” he said. “It will strengthen you.”
She just stared at him. How the hell was she supposed to eat with him standing there?
She was surprised to easily recognize comprehension on a face that was so alien. And at the same time she recognized something else – something that clouded his powerful voice like fog. Sadness…
Did he really sound sad or was she just imagining it?
“I should leave you to your meal. First allow me to…” he broke off and spoke a sharp, unintelligible command. He held out one large hand and almost instantly a crystal goblet, identical to the one she had broken, appeared in midair. His hand closed around it.
A noise, somewhere between a sob and a scream, squeaked from Mikki’s lips.
“Did you not desire another glass?” He asked.
Mikki could only nod. Her swarming thoughts semi-hysterically said that what she really wanted was a valium to go with the wine.
He was watching her closely and she thought his expression might have softened, but his face was so fierce that it was hard to tell. “May I bring this glass to you?”
She nodded again with a quick, slight movement.
Slowly, he stalked forward with an athletic grace that was as powerful as it was feral. His ebony hooves sounded unnaturally loud in the silence of the balcony. Mikki couldn’t look away from him. As he moved closer to her, she couldn’t help pushing herself against the back of her chair, where she sat rigid and unmoving. Her heart was pounding hot and loud in her ears and for a moment she thought that she might make a liar out of herself and actually faint.
Would he catch her if she did? The thought of him touching her shivered through her body.
When he reached the broken glass he made a dismissive gesture with one hand and muttered a word under his breath.
The shards instantly obeyed him, blowing off the balcony in a tiny crystal tornado.
Then he stood beside the table. This close the light from the candelabrum flickered over him, illuminating the hard, inhumanly muscular lines of his body. He kept very still, allowing her time to study him and to become accustomed to his nearness.
The statue in the park had not been clothed, but the living Guardian was. He wore a black leather breastplate over a short tunic. The outfit reminded her of something Russell Crowe would have worn in Gladiator, except had the two stood side-by-side the Guardian would have made the Aussie actor look like a boy in dress-up clothes.
The creature was huge. He had to stand almost seven feet tall. His hair was the unrelenting black of a new moon night. It fell thickly around his massive shoulders. Two dark horns protruded from his head. They curled forward and tapered to dangerous looking points. His face was the same as the statue’s, with powerful masculine features that did not completely dominate the Taurean beast that lay so close to the surface. The breastplate and tunic left quite a bit of his muscular body bare. The skin that covered his torso was dark, and looked like living bronze in the candlelight. She let her eyes travel down his body. She knew what she would see, yet still she sucked in a shocked breath at the reality of it. His thick legs were covered in dark fur. Instead of feet, the flickering light glinted off cloven hooves.
He was the personification of animalistic power and though he did not move to threaten her, the aura of feral viciousness that surrounded him was almost palpable. Mikki shivered and pulled the blanket more closely around her shoulders.
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