Evie Byrne: Fantastik Romance
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Dante's Inferno
Buy now from Samhain Publishing
Novella-length erotic historical romance. Hot but sweet.
ISBN: 1-60504-187-4 $4.50




  Dante turned in a slow circle, searching over the heads of the crowd, a stir of panic passing through him at the thought of losing her. When he spotted the red feather, he sent up thanks to Santa Lucia for sharp vision. She had ducked into the shelter of a doorway and was speaking to a beggar woman there. As he watched she handed his purse--his quite generous purse--over to the woman.

What, are you celebrating Lent early, my little whore? His eyebrows shot up. Or are you not a whore at all? That purse was meant to impress her and guarantee her future company, but it seemed she didn't need the money.

He had to set his speculation aside when she began to move again, slipping and dodging through the press of bodies. Too big to do that himself, he fought against the flow of the crowd. Though she moved fast, he kept his eye on the red feather and was confident he would not lose her. That is, until the Devil got in his way.

Eight feet tall and black as coal, Satan stepped between Dante and his quarry. In his hand he held a long rope binding seven men in his wake: seven men costumed as the seven deadly sins, all staggering drunk. A knot of revelers traveled with the Devil and his companions, shouting advice on clean living to rowdy spectators who packed in from all sides to enjoy the show.

Cursing like a sailor--and doing it well because he was one--Dante pushed straight through the procession, shoving bodies aside in his haste. He made good progress until his foot caught on the rope connecting Pride to Lust and he tripped, falling on Envy, who shoved him away with an insult. Losing his temper, he shoved back. Fists were raised, Greed and Sloth menaced, and he remembered the girl. Jeers followed him as he ran away from the fight, flying in the direction he had last seen her moving, but he was too late. She was gone.

"Damn!" Too stubborn to give up, he searched another half hour, but with so many turns and junctions to choose from, so many doorways she could have slipped into, he knew he hadn't a hope of finding her again.

In the nearest tavern, a low, greasy place that reeked unaccountably of wet dogs, he bought a bottle of wine to ease his disappointment and a dish of spiced olives to help him forget her taste.

What if she was not a whore? She was no respectable woman, that was certain. A wife might stray, but she would not go out on the streets looking for a quick tumble, and even the easiest girl required some courting. She might be an enterprising servant, available, but not professional. Yet if that were true, she would have kept the money. In the end, he decided that all evidence pointed to her being a bored mistress, a woman who did not prize virtue and who craved adventure more than she needed money.

Finding her all alone and so very amenable, he had just assumed she was a whore. During the dance, she hung on him. Her kiss afterward was an open invitation, and he did not have to cajole her into that alley. Once there, he could no longer think clearly enough to notice any evidence contrary to his assumption, though in retrospect there was plenty.

First there was that smile of hers. Watching her from a distance, the first thing he had noticed about her was how her full lips curled up at the corners in a closed-mouth, enigmatic smile. It was not a whore's bawdy grin. It was the expression of a woman contemplating mischief. He had asked her to dance just to see that smile again.

Already he knew it was a smile that would haunt him to his dying day. On his death bed, his grandchildren would ask if he had any regrets, and he'd say, "Yes, there was this girl once, who I thought was a whore..."

Looking back, he saw how she acted the whore in some ways and not others. She'd given herself to him without so much as a blink, but hadn't negotiated a price first. She rode him like a wildcat, but waited for him to unbutton his own breeches. None of that evidence meant anything particular on its own. Then he remembered her stays.
Dante buried his face in his palms, unable to believe his own stupidity. Her stays had laced at the back and were tied off high between her shoulder blades where she could not reach by herself. This"whore" of his could afford a maid.

Sucking on an olive, he imagined her spreading her legs day in and day out for the old coot who kept her. Inspired by the spirit of Carnival, or by the full moon, she had come out that night seeking pleasure. Instead she found Dante Valaresso, who mistook her for a whore and used her like one.

He spit the olive pit onto the floor.

You should just get back on your ship and stay there until Lent begins and it's safe for idiots to walk the streets.

The girl with the siren's smile hated him now, and for good reason. It was a miracle she had not thrown his money in his face and cursed him up and down for being a pig.

Despite the olives he could still taste her. He could still smell her too. She wore no perfume, but she smelled of something. Something as familiar and comforting as rain and weathered timber. He furrowed his brow. "She smells like my ship?"

"Shorry t' hear it, mate," said his neighbor. "Mine only shmells like onions."

Dante sighed and turned away. If he had not been blind with lust, she would be with him right now. In fact, they would be back in his cabin and he would have that mask off her. Better, he would have her clothes off her and she would be spread beneath him, moaning as she had in the alley. He beat down this fantasy as fast as it formed, but not fast enough. Nonchalantly, he arranged his cloak over his lap.

Then and there he made a vow to himself. He would track her down, no matter what it cost. If she ran wild one night, she would run wild again, and if she did, he would find her and show her the meaning of pleasure.