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Authors: Arianna Hart

Waking Up

BOOK: Waking Up
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Dedication

This book has to be dedicated to my New Orleans friends, Jenn Mason, Kathy Love, Erin McCarthy, Beth Ciotta, Mary Stella, the Pozzessere Clan, the Perry Clan and Molly and her sons from Bent Pages. What happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans

unless it ends up in a book.

And most especially, this book would never have happened without the kick in the pants from my friends in the Sizzling Scribes. Without your encouragement, I don’t know if I would have ever written again. For more information on my “sizzling sisters” check out our website
www.sizzlingscribes.com
.

Prologue

Ireland, approximately 1000 AD

“But you have to marry me, Declan. I’m carrying your child,” Fiona wailed, clinging to his arm as warriors assembled in the courtyard.

“I’ve told you before, I can’t marry you. My chief needs me.” Declan looked at her with distaste. Her once beautiful hair was matted and probably filled with lice. Her eyes looked wild and rolled around, never meeting his gaze. He instinctively made a sign of protection. When he’d met her, she’d been training to be a priestess. She knew the rites to commune with the gods. Perhaps she’d been god-touched and it had addled her brains.

“I love you! I sacrificed to Anann for this baby. You have to marry me.” Spit flew from her lips and she yanked on his arm. “’Tis only you I love!”

A shiver of dread danced down his back. Anann was the goddess of fertility, but she was also Morrigan, goddess of death.

“I don’t love you. I enjoyed you but that’s over.” He shook her off more forcefully than necessary and Fiona went sprawling in the mud. Declan stormed off to gather his belongings and catch up with the warriors who were moving out ahead of him. He had no time and no use for women when there was a battle on the horizon.

 

Hours later, the cold seeped into his bones as he tried to find a comfortable position on the ground. The watch had been set and he was free for some time yet. He should get some sleep while he could. The fighting would be fierce tomorrow and he needed all the advantages he could get. He couldn’t help feeling the gods wouldn’t be on their side. Fiona’s crazed eyes haunted him every time he relaxed.

“Bah, nonsense.” The feeling was nothing more than bad mutton in his gut. He threw off his blanket and stalked over to the trees. He’d walk off the indigestion and the uneasiness at the same time.

The campfires flickered as he made his way around sleeping warriors. Suddenly, the air grew still and he couldn’t move another step. The fire in front of him blazed taller than three men and heat scorched his face, yet he stood frozen to the spot.

“Declan, son of Donal, you have refused my gift.” The words sounded as if they came from three separate voices. The volume echoed through his skull until he thought his head would explode. “What have you to say on your behalf?”

Sweat dripped off his face and down his back. He could make out a figure in the fire but it wavered and changed in the flames. At first it appeared as a young woman, then as one with child, lastly as a crone bent with age. His knees shook but he couldn’t move.

“I have not been offered a gift, so how could I refuse it?”

“Fiona sacrificed much to be blessed with a child and you denied her the rights of marriage. By refusing her, you refused my gift.”

Bone-deep terror turned his bowels to water and he struggled to talk his way out of what would surely be a painful death. “I am a warrior. I travel with my chief to battle on the morn. I can’t marry her when I could die at any time.”

“Is that so?” The triple voices bounced around his head and the flames grew higher and hotter. “Dying on the morn shall be the least of your worries, my irresponsible warrior. You refused one gift. You will not have the opportunity to deny this one.”

White light blinded him, but he thought he saw an arm or arms reaching from the flames toward him. Blazing heat seared a spot above his heart and fire coursed through his body, boiling his blood until he thought he’d be cooked from the inside out.

“By refusing the gift of love and new life from one of my daughters, you shall now be cursed to search for love for eternity. You will be denied the blessing of death until you fall in love and that love is reciprocated and a child is conceived.”

An explosion of heat and light lifted him off his feet and threw him against a tree.

When he could focus again, the camp looked normal and the fire was down to glowing embers. No one looked in his direction or seemed alarmed by what had just happened. If it wasn’t for the pain searing through him, he’d think it was all a fever dream.

Declan’s head spun and he tried to figure out what the goddess meant. Something about refusing Fiona had insulted Morrigan and she’d cursed him, but how? What did she mean that he would have to search for love? Love was for women and the addled, not for warriors. Besides, he’d never had trouble getting women to warm his blankets. It wouldn’t take an eternity to find another.

Before he could ponder her curse further, a roar went up from one of the warriors on watch. A battle cry echoed through the camp as the enemy attacked. Declan ran for his sword by his bedroll but knew it would be futile. There were too many enemies for their small band and men were already down. He slipped in the blood of his comrades as he dove for his sword, all thoughts of Morrigan and her curse forgotten.

For now.

Chapter One

New Orleans, present day

A troupe of vicious gnomes were stabbing ice picks inside Ciara’s skull. That could be the only explanation for the pain throbbing behind her left eye. Nausea rolled in her belly as she tried to turn her head to escape the blinding light piercing her brain. What the hell had she done last night?

As images flashed through her head, Ciara realized a few things simultaneously. First, she was naked, and she never slept naked. Second, she wasn’t in her hotel room, because this was by far nicer than the one she and her friend, Leigh, had rented. Third, whosever room this belonged to was currently taking a shower and singing in a very nice baritone.

Oh shit.

Scenes from last night crashed down on her like a tidal wave. When the guy had walked into the room and every female hormone in her body had jumped to attention. He was tall, with black hair and blue eyes, and so intensely attractive she felt like she’d been struck by lightning. She remembered dancing with him at a bar with a mechanical bull. Well, it hadn’t exactly been dancing. It had been more like dry sex. He’d licked salt off her wrist when they’d done shots of tequila and the heat from his mouth on her had damn near dropped her right there.

Just the memory of it had moisture flooding between her legs. Apparently, not for the first time either as the sheets felt a little damp. Ciara winced as she glanced around the room. The sexy black dress Leigh had insisted she wear was crumpled on the floor next to a pair of khaki pants and her sky-high heels. Condom wrappers littered the floor and her purse hung on the door handle.

Embarrassment and shame flooded her, along with a rush of bile. She swallowed both down and crawled from the bed. She needed to get out before the guy in the shower—what the hell was his name again?—came back to the room.

Biting back a whimper of pain, she slipped off the bed and dragged the dress over her head. Her bra was still tangled up in the straps but she had no idea where her underwear had ended up. A vague memory of him pulling them off her with his teeth came to mind and made her knees wobble.

What had gotten into her—besides him? She just didn’t do things like this. Ciara Mary Callahan never drank too much and never, ever, ever went home with strange men she met in bars. He would think she was an absolute floozy, and apparently, he’d be right. Should she leave him a note? Leave her number? Apologize? Ask what the hell his name was?

Feeling utterly mortified, Ciara did the only thing she could think of and grabbed her purse before she slipped out the door like the coward she was. She really didn’t want to face him and she still had to go back to her hotel and explain everything to Leigh.

It was a fight to keep the contents of her stomach inside her body as the elevator swooped down to the lobby of the hotel. Ciara tried not to make eye contact with anyone as she crossed the marble floor and pushed out into the steamy New Orleans heat.

Luckily, she was only a few blocks from her hotel on Royal Street and there were very few people out and about this time of the day. As she glanced at her watch, she realized it was actually closer to noon than six a.m. like she’d thought.

And, sometime during the night, she’d gotten a tattoo of a Celtic knot on the inside of her wrist.

What the fuck?
She traced the intricate knot work with her finger and a shiver shot straight between her legs. Memories of Declan—that was his name—licking her wrist swamped her. She’d never thought of that part of her body as being particularly erogenous, but she’d just about come from his mouth on her there.

Later, she’d come repeatedly from his mouth other places, but she really didn’t want to think about that right now. Right now, she was focused on taking a cool shower then crawling in bed and pretending this had never happened. She just did not do things like this.

The elevator ride up to her room was no less nauseating than the previous ride had been. All she wanted was ice cold water and some aspirin. Please, God, she’d do anything for an aspirin right about now.

As she fumbled with the key card to her room, she wondered how Leigh had fared last night. A twinge of guilt pierced her misery as she thought about how she’d abandoned her friend. Anything could have happened to her.

The sound of retching met her as she finally opened the door to the room.

“Leigh? Are you all right?” Ciara tapped on the bathroom door.

“No, but I’ll live. I’ll be out in a minute,” her voice was raspy and faint.

Ciara kicked off her heels and grabbed some clothes out of the suitcase. Neither bed looked like it had been slept in. Maybe Leigh had just gotten back to the room too.

“So I take it you had a good night?” Leigh smirked as she came out of the bathroom. Her normally olive complexion was wan and slightly green. “Was he as good as he appeared when you were dancing? I swear, you almost gave me an orgasm watching you.”

“Why did you let me go home with him? I never do things like that.” Ciara knew she shouldn’t blame her friend for her lack of judgment, but she didn’t have the fortitude to take responsibility for her own actions right now.

“Sister, I was on stage doing the bump and grind with a six-foot tall transvestite wearing pink feathers and a gold G-string when you left. I don’t think I was in any position to be your moral compass.”

“I know. Sorry. I’m hung over, embarrassed, and shouldn’t take it out on you.” She headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth. “Where did you end up? It doesn’t look like either of us used the room last night.”

“Oh no, I was here. I slept in the bathtub.”

“What? Why?”

“It was easier when I was throwing up so much. The tiles were nice and cool and every time I had to puke, I just leaned over the side. It worked out well.”

Ciara stared at her friend, who was wrapped in a towel, holding her head in both hands and looking as wrung out as she felt. This woman was a shark of a lawyer who brought opposing counsel to their knees. Right now, she could appear on a
Girls Gone Wild—The Morning After
video.

“I think we should make a pact right now,” Ciara said as she undressed. “What happens in New Orleans—”

“Stays in New Orleans,” Leigh finished. “Absolutely. I’d swear it in blood but I’m already so dehydrated I can’t afford to lose any more fluids.”

“I’ll take your word for it. I need to shower then we’d better head to the airport. Our flight leaves in a couple hours and I have to be at work bright and early tomorrow.”

Leigh moaned. “I don’t want to think about tomorrow. Or the flight home for that matter. Can’t we hide under the covers?”

“Sure, if you want to support me until I get another job.”

The cool water felt like heaven on her over-heated skin. Now that her headache had backed off a bit, she started to take stock of other twinges and aches. Her body felt sore in places that hadn’t seen use in far too many months. She had beard-burn on her breasts and the inside of her thighs, and she wasn’t sure, but she might have either a bruise or a hickey on her left butt cheek. Memories of how she’d gotten that mark made her squirm.

BOOK: Waking Up
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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