Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 1
Natalie J. Damschroder
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Natalie J. Damschroder. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Edited by Kerri-Leigh Grady
Cover design by Hot Damn Designs
Ebook ISBN 978-1-937044-54-1
Print ISBN 978-1-937044-55-8
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition December 2011
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: AC/DC, American Medical Association, Band-Aids, Boston Landing, Camaro, Charger, Crocs, Daddy Warbucks, Dean Koontz, Dumpster, Fairfield Inn, Fairfield University, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Formica, Henley, Hoyer, Ibuprofen, J. Crew, Jetway, Lexus, Metallica, Metro Cab, Mustang, NFL Network, Ohio State University, Plexiglas, Prius, Romance Writers of America, Samuel Adams Beer, Sarett Nature Center, Taser, Taurus, Toyota, Vulcan, Walmart, Westminster, X-Men.
This book is dedicated to Jim, who taught me what falling in love was all about in the first place, and made sure I never
had to face the despair of hard choices.
Society views goddesses the same way they view psychics—most people don’t believe in us, and since there are only about a hundred goddesses in the United States, skeptics rarely have occasion to be proven wrong. Some people have open minds but still no reason to seek to use a goddess’s talents. If you choose a public career as a goddess, you join in the responsibility for image maintenance. Help us keep public opinion positive.
—The Society for Goddess Education and Defense, Public Relations Handbook
When Quinn Caldwell’s cell phone rang, she assumed one of her clients needed an appointment or a Society member had a question about next week’s annual meeting. It took her a second to pull her attention from the paperwork on her desk, another three to register the name on the screen.
Her spark of joy at seeing his name quickly changed to concern. He wouldn’t be calling for anything good. Quinn plugged her ear against the noise from the bar outside her office door, held her breath, and flipped open the phone. “Nick?”
“Quinn.” The rumble of his vintage Charger’s engine harmonized with Nick’s voice. “Service isn’t good out here so just listen.”
She knew it. “What’s wrong?”
“We have a problem. I’m coming early. I’ll explain when I get there. I won’t have a very good cell signal most of the time. I’m at least a day away, so stay close to Sam, and don’t…” His voice cut in and out before disappearing altogether.
Quinn’s skin prickled. She closed the phone, frowning. Nick never came until at least the week before new moon, when she was most vulnerable. In the fifteen years of their relationship, he’d never come a whole week early.
Something big had to be happening.
Quinn was the only goddess whose power source was the full moon, which meant she was only fully able to use her abilities for the seven days around it. As the month waned, she grew more “normal” until the new-moon period, when she had no ability to tap the power. That was when Nick appeared. Never now.
“Who was that?” Sam’s solid, warm hand landed on her shoulder, and he dropped a pile of papers on the desk in front of her. Quinn blinked at the shift from the surreal nature of the phone call to the mundane clutter of her narrow office at the back of Under the Moon, the central-Ohio bar she’d inherited from her father. It was her main business, a connection to the parents who died within months of each other twelve years ago, leaving her without any real family. It also kept her connected to the public between power cycles. The goddesses who made a living with their abilities mostly relied on word of mouth to find clients, and Quinn’s bar, centrally located for locals and travelers, had enough people channeling through it to give her customers for both businesses.
“Nobody,” she said, still lost in thought. She shook off the fog. “I mean, Nick.”
Sam’s eyebrows disappeared under his dark, shaggy bangs. He crossed to his smaller but far more organized desk near the office door. His chair squeaked when he dropped into it. “Nick called you?”
“Yeah. He’s coming early.”
“Great.” Sam glowered and mumbled something under his breath. “Why? The moon is barely waning gibbous.”
“I don’t know. The signal dropped.” She worried her lower lip. Stay close to Sam. Why? The order was protective—and after all, Nick was her protector, so that was his default mode—but what did she need protection from? She rubbed her right forearm, the phantom ache a reminder of the first time Nick had been assigned to her, that “goddess” wasn’t a synonym for “invincible.”
Sam sighed. “When is he getting here?”
“I don’t know that, either.” She rested her head on her hand, her elbow on a pile of folders on her worn oak desktop. The full moon would completely wane by tomorrow, taking most of her power with it, so she’d worked steadily for the last week, using mostly telekinesis and her healing ability to help her clients. She hadn’t slept enough to balance the depletion of her normal energy, and her sluggish brain resisted the apprehension buzzing in her now.
“We’ll have to wait until he shows up, I guess.” She shook off the mental fuzzies and focused on Sam. He watched her, longing mixing with concern in his light brown eyes.
“How long did you sleep?” he asked.
She stifled a yawn. “Seven hours, six minutes.”
He shook his head. “That’s not enough.”
“Gonna have to be. It sounds like we have a full house tonight.”
“It’s busy for a Tuesday,” he acknowledged. Murmurs and laughter mixed with the jukebox music filtering in from the main room. It was still early, too.
“Bets and Katie are both sick, so they probably need us out there.” She stood and stretched, closing her eyes briefly and arching with her arms high. He didn’t answer. “Sam?” She caught him staring at the stretch of skin bared by her sweatshirt and tugged it over the waistband of her jeans. Heat seeped through her, dragging tingles in its wake. Did he notice her skin flush?
He gave himself a little shake and pulled his gaze away. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess.” But he scowled.
Quinn propped her hands on her hips. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He sat up and shifted papers on his desk, but she knew it wasn’t “nothing.”
He sighed. “We need to talk. You’ve put me off all week, and now we’ve got Nick…”
Shit. She had hoped Nick coming early would put an end to this debate. She dragged her cotton apron off the back of her chair and busied herself tying it. “I’d better get to work.”
But Sam didn’t get up. His voice was low and deep when he said, “Why didn’t you come to me?”
Her hands stilled, and she avoided his steady gaze by checking for her order pad and pen. “You know why.”
Tapping her power source had a price. As energy flowed through her, it depleted her resources like exercise depleted an athlete. Instead of needing water and vitamins to balance her body, Quinn needed sex. She’d never understood why, but her body had always been recharged by that primal connection to another human being. She hadn’t had that for three months now, and the longer she resisted, the more difficult it got.
So Sam’s long legs, ridged stomach, and broad chest all called to her. Quinn’s hands flexed, anticipating the silk of his shaggy hair bunched in them. Only a few minutes, a voice whispered in her head. That’s all it will take. For balance. A moment of thought, of remembering the heat between them, was enough to make her crave it again. Her mouth watered as she watched Sam’s long-fingered hand track up his chest and around the back of his neck, a move she knew was calculated.
That didn’t matter. She took a step toward him, then forced herself to stop. She’d told Sam three months ago that she wouldn’t use him anymore and had held fast to the decision no matter how willing he was. It had been six years since she’d first had sex with him, and she’d only recently understood the damage they were doing to each other. Sam didn’t believe she could stop, but she had fought the moon lust for nearly twelve weeks. Tomorrow would end this full-moon cycle; she’d have it completely under control, and it would get easier next month. It had to. Yeah, because it’s been a cakewalk so far. But she didn’t have to convince herself—she had to convince Sam.
“I’ve told you. What we’re doing isn’t fair. You’ve stopped dating, stopped even looking for—” She hesitated, uncertain how to phrase it.
“I don’t need to look for it.” His tone was hard with conviction, and Quinn closed her eyes, despairing.
“That’s my point,” she said. “I’m tying you up, and you deserve better.”
“That’s a matter of debate, and you don’t have to suffer because of it.”
Her laugh didn’t need to be forced. “Not having sex isn’t suffering.”
“For you it is.”
He’d closed the distance between them, and though Quinn knew she didn’t move, her body seemed to surge toward him in agreement. She breathed in the remains of the aftershave he’d used this morning and wavered. He smelled so good.
A shout came from the other side of the paneled door, jerking Quinn out of her trance and replacing it with guilt. She couldn’t give in. Sam cared too much. And so did she, but not in the way he wanted.
“We’ll talk about this later,” she said as the racket outside the door escalated.
“You bet we will.” He set his jaw and opened the door, striding out ahead of her.
Quinn followed, her heart and body aching. She immersed herself in taking drink and snack orders from the bikers crowding around four-tops and stroking cues around the two pool tables, but being busy didn’t distract her mind. When she wasn’t detouring every trip around the room to peer out the front door to see if Nick had arrived, she was fretting over Sam.
He was her best friend and more. The son of a goddess, he’d been fresh out of college when he came to her six years ago looking for a job. He’d designed his education around becoming his mother’s assistant, but she’d died soon after graduation. Sam believed she’d put too much wear and tear on her body using her power to help others. Since he couldn’t save her, he’d found Quinn.
She poured a pitcher of light beer for a group of Tuesday regulars and watched Sam help Katie deliver a full tray to a celebrating bowling team. He’d become indispensable within three months of her hiring him. He did research for the full-moon jobs on topics as wide-ranging as agriculture, medicine, geometry, and psychology. He also managed the bar and her schedule—managed her so she didn’t deplete her resources too fast or take on jobs she shouldn’t.
He caught her watching as he carried the tray back behind the bar and flashed a dimple. She couldn’t help smiling back, but then quickly bent to wipe down an empty table.
When she needed to recharge during the full moon, he volunteered. He joked that it was the best perk of the job, but they never discussed a long-term plan, assuming they’d take things as they came. Like Sam would meet someone he wanted to be with, and they’d stop.
But it hadn’t happened. Quinn realized that Sam didn’t flirt with any of the women who came through the bar, and he kept his relations with her staff professional. He never pushed her when it wasn’t full moon. There was only one reason a guy would settle for that, and she couldn’t give him what he needed.
She considered and discarded a dozen speeches as she drew ale, poured whiskey, and brushed up against Sam whenever she had to get to the register. She was acutely aware of the tightness of her nipples, the sensitivity between her legs that grew whenever their bodies were near. As the moon rose, even as weak as it was, it tugged on her like the tides. Desire surged and ebbed, but it took concentration on her lingering guilt to force the latter.
The bikers, transients who’d been well behaved and heavy tippers, waved as they left at twelve thirty. To Quinn’s relief, the place was empty of customers within fifteen minutes. For a moment, she watched the waitresses and busboy wiping down tables and flipping chairs while Sam counted cash at the old-fashioned register.
Resigned to the coming confrontation and wanting to get it over with, she said, “Why don’t you guys go home? We can handle the rest of this.” No one argued. As they filed out, chorusing their good nights, Quinn braced herself for Sam’s first salvo.
“Did you talk to Nick again?” he asked, surprising her.
“No.” She ducked under the bar pass-through and crossed to the door to lock it, peering out the small pane of glass onto the gravel lot for the millionth time. “I tried to call, but I still can’t get through.”
“He’s never come this early before.” Sam flipped one of the heavy oak chairs up onto a hewn and polished tabletop. “What do you think is going on?”
“There’s no point speculating.” She went to the other side of the room to help him. “Let’s not start listing all the possible reasons. That’s too stressful.” She didn’t want to tell Sam that Nick had told her to stay close to him. That would increase his worry and maybe keep him from going home. She desperately needed some space to get through the next few hours without giving in to the moon lust.
“Okay. So we’ll talk about us.” Sam pulled down a chair and sat in front of her.
“Can I say no?”
He just looked at her.
“Fine.” She sighed and half sat on a nearby table. Sam waited, his eyebrows raised, his mouth cocked, as if he already knew what she was going to say and found it absurd.
“You’re twenty-eight, Sam.”
“I know how old I am.”
Quinn folded her arms. “I’m ten years older than you.”
“I know how old you are, too.”
“I don’t want to keep you from fulfilling your destiny.”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “And what’s my destiny?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She steeled herself, ignoring the slow roll of need in her gut. “It’s not me.”
He sobered. “Quinn…”
“No, Sam.” She made an effort to keep her voice steady. “You deserve a chance to find someone right for you. But that’s not the main issue.” She sighed. “It’s time.”
She didn’t want to talk about the way he’d been watching her. She recognized something in him that she’d buried deep inside herself, didn’t even acknowledge anymore. The belief that there was nothing else out there that could give him what he was missing. She’d tried
“I don’t get it.” He spread his arms wide. “I’m not looking for someone else!”
“That’s the problem!” she shot back. “I’m holding you back from finding something real and lasting. A relationship with a woman who won’t relegate you to one week every month, for one thing.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched. “You need me.”
He meant it in a general sense, but it resonated physically. Need of the more carnal variety pulsed in half a dozen places. Quinn clenched her thighs, shifted her folded arms, and fought the impulse to reassure him. She’d told him the first week he worked for her that she would never lie to him. If she said she didn’t need him, he’d recognize the deception, and that would hurt him more than not being needed would.
“I’m not going to die if I don’t have sex,” she said instead. “I’ve managed three months already.”
“Yeah, and it took its toll. You had to work harder to do the same things this month, didn’t you?”
“No.” That wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t completely true, either. When Sam raised his eyebrows, she said, “I got tired faster. But I need more sleep, that’s all. I should be able to manage this another way.” Frustrated, she pulled the bar towel off her shoulder and slapped it on the tabletop behind her.
“You’ve tried,” Sam said. “You told me so, back when you first hired me. It never worked, and the need grew. So why do you think it will be different now?”
“Because I’m older.”
“And more powerful. Wouldn’t that make the need worse?”
Damn him, he had an answer for everything. “I’ll find someone else.” Her gut twisted. The consequence of her heritage would be much easier to deal with if she didn’t care whom she slept with, but she always had. As much as it balanced her physically, sex with strangers or acquaintances left her more emotionally bereft, especially after her parents died.
Then came Sam. He’d filled so many holes in her life. Business manager, friend, family. Quinn knew that if she let him, he’d take that even further, marry her and raise children with her, and as blissful as the fantasy was, it would never be as perfect as he wanted it to be. She couldn’t love him the way he deserved to be loved.
Other author's books:
- Sophie's PlayboyREBUILDING FOREVERUnder the Moon (Goddesses Rising)Acceptable RisksHeavy Metal (A Goddesses Rising Novel) (Entangled Select)Sunroper (Goddesses Rising)
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