Falcon’s Bend is a small, sleepy town in Wisconsin that owns more taverns than churches, but fills both on the appropriate days. Teenagers talk of escape from the one-horse town because nothing ever seems to happen. But, even here in the Heartland, police investigators Pete Shasta, Danny Vincent and Amber Carfi fight a never-ending battle to keep their beloved families and hometown safe and sound.
Will you walk in, pretty fly…and will you walk out once you’re trapped inside the spider’s lair?
Shayna Vincent returns home to Falcon’s Bend after her romance turns disastrous. When she and Gage Keveris became a creative design team at the prestigious Bethany Advertising Agency, she’d had no idea he was married to a career-ambitious woman who traveled more often than she came home. Over the last year and half, Shayna found herself falling in love with her partner and friend without a clue what he was hiding. Now that she knows the truth, she can’t bear the pain of being near him when they can’t be together.
While staying with her little brother Danny, a Falcon’s Bend Police Department detective, she meets up with an old crush from high school. Shawn Futrell has been widowed twice, his third wife is missing, and he’s the father of a sixteen-year-old from his first marriage. When Danny finds out his vulnerable sibling has been in contact with Futrell, he tries to put a stop to it by telling her that Shawn’s wives’ deaths were more than a little suspicious–regardless of whether or not the police have been able to find any evidence to pin on him.
But bad boy Shawn is still movie-star gorgeous, and Shayna can’t stop recalling how besotted she was with him as an impressionable teenage girl–one Shawn never took seriously back then but seems intent on making up for lost time now. What pretty fly could resist the invitation of such a seductive spider?
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“No trait is more justified than revenge in the right time and place.”
“Hurry,” she urged frantically, when he lay beside her on the sleeping bag inside the tent. “I’ve been waiting so long. Why did you take so long to get here?”
As she pouted, her hands ran all over him the way they had the first time he’d taken her. She always rushed right to it. But tonight…tonight he planned to savor every minute of his seduction. “Hold on, baby. Slow down.”
“Why? For what?”
He let a grin crawl across his face–teasing, tempting, exactly what she could never resist. “Tonight I’ve got something special.”
She gasped in anticipation, her throat sounding dry as she stared up at him. “What?”
Raising an eyebrow, he said softly, “I’ve been reading about a way to prolong intense erotic pleasure.” He drew his finger along the edge of her blouse, dipping into her bra without hurrying. Careening toward the finish line like an addict–it was the story of her life. He’d always savored the best moments.
She stroked the front of his jeans, hard, groaning as if his pace was killing her. “How? Tell me what to do,” she begged.
“They say spider venom, specifically venom from a Brazilian Wandering spider, boosts nitric oxide.”
“What’s that?” she all but choked out.
“During sex, it increases blood flow.”
“Blood flow?” she gasped, understanding finally dawning.
He couldn’t resist feathering his fingers against her hardened flesh. She moaned, her eyes rolling up into her head. He forced himself to continue speaking, unhurried, while he teased her. “Yeah. Blood flow. And that sensory nerve stimulation causes the release of neuropeptides.” He leaned closer, his lips an inch from hers as he lowered his voice even more. “In men, it causes a four-hour erection. In women…”
She cried out when he whispered the dirty words in her ear. He didn’t need to touch her to know how close she was. “But first…the injection.”
Her eyes popped open. “Injection?” she asked, sounding and looking breathless–and not in the good way she had an instant ago.
“Of venom. You have to go first. Because, in women, it takes a lot longer for the affect to take hold. Then, after I’m injected, we’ll be able to do everything you ever wanted, baby. We can even do it outside, under the stars.”
All fear disappeared from her expression. “Yes,” she pleaded, licking her lips.
“Yes?” He smiled, an exhilarating rush caused by the pleasure he knew was about to send him over the edge in a moment. The ultimate pleasure.
“Yes. Oh, baby, but…how?” she panted.
“First…” He reached beside him to get the roll, lifting himself so he could straddle her beneath his weight. “I have to put tape over your mouth. While we’re connected, you can scream all you want, baby, but while you’re being injected…well, we don’t want the whole damn campground coming here, thinking you’re being murdered, do we?”
She frowned, her gaze shifting to the strip of tape he ripped off with his teeth. “What do you mean?”
He leaned down and kissed her, warming her again. Then he sat up again, wiped away the sweat that’d formed over her full lips, then pressed the painter’s tape over her mouth. “The injection won’t be easy. You might get scared, start screaming bloody murder. Trust me, though, in the end it’ll be worth it.” The look he gave her was profound. He could see fear in her eyes, but the curiosity behind it overwhelmed even that. No surprise. There’s nothing she won’t do to get off. Despite her initial protest when she whimpered against the tape and shifted beneath his weight, the promise of the most intense physical pleasure of her life seemed to convince her not to out-and-out fight him.
“Just stay still, baby. I promise it’ll be over in a minute, and then…”
Her eyes went wide, watching him turn and reached back first for the padded gloves, then for the locked plastic case that was slightly smaller than the square-weave torture chamber. Keeping one hand on the chamber to steady it on the ground, he eased the plastic case inside the leather flap of the chamber opening. Working quickly, he flicked open the side lock on the case, then pulled it from the opening as quickly as he could, trapping the Brazilian Wandering spider inside the chamber–always a tricky endeavor. He lifted the chamber, seeing the fear in her eyes had become outright terror. Squelching a smile, he let her see the massive creature moving around inside the woven bars of the cage. Immediately, she started to struggle under him, but he shifted down slightly, grinding himself against the apex of her thighs until she mewled and soon settled down in helpless enjoyment.
“Soon. It’ll be worth it, baby. You’ll see,” he said, using his most calming voice to convince her. She wouldn’t be pliant much longer–and that would be the best part for him. Leaning forward, he lined up the leather flap of the chamber so it was parallel with the top of her head and murmured, “Just let me…”
In one swift moment, he pushed the chamber down over her head, being careful not to shove too hard. Don’t wanna crush the weapon. Her entire body reacted violently. As she bucked, she almost threw him over, but, now that the chamber was in place, the monster-spider backed into the corners and on the defense, he could hold her down with his arms and the superior weight of his body. With all her strength, she wrestled, her screams lost against the tape. Her gyrations as she kicked, slamming her hips against him, only intensified his thrill as his response ripped through him with the force of a hurricane.
In the minutes after reaching the peak, he was trying to catch his breath, laughing breathlessly, and she went utterly still beneath him. Smiling in gratification, he reached down to carefully remove the cage from her head. Working quickly now, he transferred the live spider back into the plastic case and flipped the lock down. When he was done, he looked down at her again. Her beautiful face was frozen forever in an expression of shock and pain–her response to the deep injection of venom in multiple places all over her head and neck, the spider’s lethal defense to close-quarter entrapment.
Leaning down again, he drew the painter’s tape off her mouth, then kissed her stiff, mildly sticky, blue lips. “It’s been fun, babe, but I got what I need from you–and trust me, it wasn’t your sex appeal, you whore. Nah. Me getting what I crave…revenge, that’s all this was ever about. You were only a casualty of a nobler purpose.”
“He was the kind of young man whose handsome face has brought him plenty of success in the past and is now ever-ready for a new encounter, a fresh-experience, always eager to set off into the unknown territory of a little adventure, never taken by surprise because he has worked out everything in advance and is waiting to see what happens, a man who will never overlook any erotic opportunity, whose first glance probes every woman’s sensuality, and explores it, without discriminating between his friend’s wife and the parlour-maid who opens the door to him. Such men are described with a certain facile contempt as lady-killers, but the term has a nugget of truthful observation in it, for in fact all the passionate instincts of the chase are present in their ceaseless vigilance: the stalking of the prey, the excitement and mental cruelty of the kill…”
~Stefan Zweig, The Burning Secret and Other Stories
“Oh, I’m about to break and I can’t stop this ache.
I’m addicted to your allure, and I’m fiending for a cure…”
~”Walk Away” by Christina Aguilera
A Week Later…
Shayna Vincent couldn’t remember feeling more nervous about a date before–and a date with a man she was madly, insanely, irrevocably in love with, at that. A man I’ve known for a decade, trust more than anyone other human being on the planet, a man who’s my best friend in every sense of the world. A man I want to be my first lover, my husband, the father of my children. In that order.
But not tonight.
Forcing herself to sit on the bed between mountains of discarded clothes, she clenched and unclenched her wooden fingers, drawing in breaths she intended to be calming. Instead, she went a little crazier with each little gasp.
She and Gage Keveris had been hired directly out of college at Chicago’s prestigious Bethany Advertising Agency and they’d immediately become a creative team there. Their first year, they’d, unbelievably, shortlisted for a Clio Award. In the years since, they’d won bronze and gold. As a team, they were a match made in heaven, according to the top agency they worked for. That was true in more ways than one. Their rapport had been instant–in under a year, Gage had become her closest friend…to the exclusion of having any other real friends. They’d been through every up and down together in the ten years since. But she’d been stringently careful about letting their friendship turn any romantic corners. The thought of this crucial relationship turning bad would affect every area of their lives. She couldn’t imagine being without him in such a central role. If they broke up, they could no longer be friends or co-workers. Unwilling to take such a foolish risk, she’d nevertheless been helpless to resist when he’d done the unimaginable and kissed her on New Year’s Eve a year and a half ago. Nothing had ever felt so right before. Absolutely nothing wrong. A dream come true. So easy. So perfect. Destined.
When did I become such a romantic?
Yet she’d continued to be careful–this time because the goal was no longer to avoid losing everything. Her goal had been to find the optimal path to forever with this amazing man she belonged with as if custom-made for their union. They’d moved at the pace of snail, relegating their dates to public places that kept them in check. Work, cafes, favorite restaurants, bookshops, shopping centers. He’d never been to her nothing-special New East Side high-rise apartment. She’d never been to his River West loft with the incredible view of the Chicago skyline she’d heard about so often, given Gage’s neurotic sleep schedule that allowed him to see both sunrise and sunset frequently. They’d gotten into the habit of taking turns carpooling to work, allowing them more time together. However, as a strict rule, they said their good mornings and good nights in either of their cars.
Torture. But necessary. Because I’ve done everything in my power to live my life by what started as my parents’ moral integrity that became mine. The vow I took says preventative hindsight starts with doing the right thing today so there can be no regrets tomorrow. Once upon a time, I wasn’t capable of following that path. I went down the darkest road I’ve ever been on…and I don’t want to go back there. More than ever before, I don’t want to make mistakes. Not with Gage.
Shayna’s cheeks flushed as she lifted her hand and looked at the gold Purity Ring her father had put there when she was a teenager. She’d agreed to the terms of wearing the ring with the words: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage.” She’d never been entirely sure whether she’d violated that commitment or not. She told herself technically she hadn’t. But her shame for what prompted uncertainty left her forever doubting.
More than once in all the time since the purity ceremony, she’d felt a little silly to be thirty-three years old and wearing this symbolic jewelry, still a virgin. Technically a virgin. But she stood by what she’d confessed (without detailed elaboration) to Gage alone when he’d asked about the ring and her unwillingness to get intimately involved with any of the men she’d dated over the course of a decade. “I want to be able to look myself in the eye every day of my life. I don’t want to be the one who betrayed myself, ignoring what I believe is right.”
Did Gage realize whenever she said that, her mind filled in the phrase “ever again”?
Of all those men, Gage was the only one who hadn’t laughed and asked her if she was serious. In this day and age, how could she be serious? Those men she’d dated had all assumed eventually they’d break her down. In contrast, Gage hadn’t even tried. They’d shared no more than lingering, fairytale perfect kisses that left them both aching for more.
Is that about to change? Why else would Gage invite me to his apartment tonight? Did he want me to assume it was on the pretense of discussing whether he’ll come home with me during my vacation? Meet my family? I’ve never brought a boyfriend home before. Not a single male I called friend or actual boyfriend. They’ll read into it. This time, I want them to read into it. Up until Gage called tonight ten minutes after he dropped me off following work, I was prepared to “go public” with our relationship when it came to my family. Now… Why would he ask me over to his apartment just suddenly, if not to pressure me sexually? And I don’t have any willpower with him…not really.
In truth, she couldn’t imagine Gage doing anything of the kind. In some ways, he seemed as awkward as she felt in sexual situations. A kiss too arousing embarrassed him and made her feel inadequate and uncertain because she’d crossed lines in the past and she knew it wouldn’t take much for her to do it again. With Gage, she’d craved any loophole that would erase the damn line she’d drawn for herself since moving to Chicago.
No, Gage hadn’t invited her for nefarious reasons. Believing that was the only reason she’d agreed to visit him at eight. Yet she was beyond nervous. She’d changed her clothes dozens of times, becoming more and more neurotic as she did so, unable to prevent herself from admitting the real reason for her anxiety. If Gage kissed her in his apartment, where, for the first time, they would be completely alone and unaccountable to anyone else anything other than their mutual ardor, how could she refuse him? If the past was any indication, a single heated kiss would be all she’d require to be flat on her back.
I ache for Gage. I ache in ways that should be unknown and forbidden for a virgin, and yet I’m sure each time he kisses me that I belong to him sexually. I’m sure of how badly I want to be with him. All the way. Every way. Forever. I’m afraid of becoming obsessed the way I was in high school–with the wrong guy. Hellishly wrong. Back then, I couldn’t see reason, logic, a way out, and I didn’t want an escape from the hell. That’s how hopelessly immersed I was. I can’t let myself go through that again because I was lost, consumed, unrecognizable to myself and those who knew me back then. With Gage, I know exactly who I am. I can hold to my principles and still be myself with him. I don’t want anything to change that. But tonight could. Drastically.
Face flushed, Shayna said out loud, “I’ll call him. Tell him we have to meet somewhere else…” But the thought of being alone with him, what it would feel like to be in his arms, free to kiss and touch him as she pleased, eager for the same from him…
Wrong. But so right…
Her cell phone went off like a blaring alarm. Hot with mental distress, she pushed her way through the mounds of clothing until she found her phone on the bedspread. On the screen, she saw her younger brother Danny’s number. She almost groaned out loud, as if she’d been caught in the very act of falling from grace. Somehow it figured that the one sibling she could tell anything to would be the one to shake her out of her apprehension.
With some effort, she slipped into her usual lighthearted tone. “Impatient are we? I said I’d call you when I figured out what time I’m leaving tomorrow.” Her vacation started the next day through July 14th.
“Mel’s leaving me.”
Startled, Shayna tried to process these frantic words from Danny. She shouldn’t have been surprised by them. Her brother, a reformed playboy, and Melody, who’d escaped a horrific situation with Danny’s intervention as a police detective, had been married only a few turbulent years. If possible, since the birth of their first child, their problems had become more pronounced. Melody was an impossibly beautiful woman, quite a few years younger than her husband. She wanted it all–all she’d missed when she’d essentially been the prisoner of a controlling pimp. And Danny’s jealousy is the stuff of legends.
“What makes you think she’s leaving you?” Shayna asked doubtfully, trying to be the voice of reason.
“She’s going to New Orleans to visit her dad. She’s taking Dee-Dee with her.”
“Just because she’s visiting her father and taking your daughter with her doesn’t mean she’s leaving you, Danny. Are you upset because she didn’t ask you to join her? She knows you have a hard time getting away from the police department.”
Danny snorted impatiently. “This has nothing to do with that.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I am. There’s no doubt.”
He sighed. “When are you coming tomorrow?”
Shayna took a deep breath at the abrupt focus toward her plans. “I’m not sure yet. Gage and I…” She swallowed in renewed anxiety. “…need to talk about it.”
“So he is coming home with you?”
Gage and Danny had met when her brother had visited her in Chicago with his daughter for a few days last year. The two men had liked each other instantly and so, totally uncharacteristically of her, she’d told Danny the truth when she and Gage had become romantically involved. Since then, she couldn’t decide if she was glad the two liked each other so much or not. The last thing she needed was Danny becoming Gage’s ally–if something went wrong and they broke up.
“Speaking of which, I have to get going. I’m meeting Gage so we can make plans for tomorrow. I’ll call you when I get back.”
His teasing, before they rang off, ruffled feathers that were already going in every different direction. Danny had been sexually active as a teenager–adamantly forgoing any purity pact with a careless snort of unwillingness. Of their four sisters, none of them had remained true to their chastity vows either. Two had gotten pregnant before marriage–though they had ended up marrying the father of their children. Peyton and Riley had had multiple partners before settling down and starting families in their mid-twenties. I’m Dad’s last chance for a virgin-before-marriage daughter, and a poor one at that. I fit in the category on a technicality alone. Will I be the last to fall?
More determined than ever not to disappoint herself tonight, Shayna stood and evaluated herself critically in the full-length mirror. She fought the impulse to change her clothes again. Ultimately, she rushed headlong out of her apartment to prevent that. She would go to Gage’s apartment and stand firm on her hard-won values. Somehow.
As she got into her nearly new, powder blue Chevy Aveo, she had a gut-punching realization. What if the reason Gage had invited her to his apartment had nothing to do with sex? What if he asked her to marry him?
Shayna choked in shock. Suddenly Gage’s abrupt deviation from the norm made sense. Her exhale was tremulous to say the least, and then she laughed uncontrollably in sheer giddiness. In her heart, she’d already said yes to that kind of proposal.