Dark Sins and Desert Sands

ISBN 13: 9780263896220

Dark Sins and Desert Sands

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9780263896220: Dark Sins and Desert Sands

She's his only hope Escaping a hellish Syrian prison, soldier Ray emerged with uncanny mind-control powers and an eerie ability to shape-shift. But his new power won't help him prove his innocence. Only one woman can aid him - the woman who'd driven him to the brink of insanity with her cool-eyed interrogation and her hot-blooded sensuality. Yet psychologist Layla has no memory of Ray or her past. Only a feeling of being followed by a strange creature. And now Ray must save her in time to save himself!

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

Stephanie Draven is a denizen of Baltimore, that city of ravens and purple night skies. She lives with her favorite nocturnal creatures, three scheming cats and a deliciously wicked husband. When she is not busy with dark domestic rituals, she writes her books. Stephanie enjoys re-imagining myths for the modern age. She doesn’t believe that true love is ever simple or without struggle so her work explores the sacred within the profane, the light under the loss and the virtue hidden in vice.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Questions to try, answer or die, what am I?

Layla Bahset had a secret; she didn't know who she was.

Oh, she knew her name, but standing here with her feet in the timeless sand, staring up at the persimmon sunrise over the Mojave Desert, she remembered nothing of herself before she'd come here. Beyond the past two years of her life, Layla's mind was bare—every glimpse of memory bounced like tumbleweed out of her grasp. She remembered no family. She remembered no friends. She didn't even remember where she'd lived before moving to Nevada.

The certificates on the walls of her office told her that she was a licensed therapist; her diplomas boasted the finest schools. But she couldn't remember attending them. She was a riddle with no answer—a complete mystery to herself—and the one rare puzzle she didn't want to solve.

As the dry morning winds whipped hair into her face, it prickled like the needles of a cactus, but Layla didn't mind. For in spite of all the things she didn't know about herself, there was one thing of which she was absolutely certain: she belonged to the desert.

It wasn't just that her skin was the color of golden sand and that her hair was as black and glossy as a scorpion's shell. It wasn't even that her eyes had been described as a lush green oasis. It was that when she looked into the desert, she felt as if the desert looked back.

Even out here, alone in the dunes, she knew that someone was watching her. She didn't know who he was or what he wanted. She only knew that he was closing in on her like a storm, getting darker, and closer, every day.

"Tell me how you felt the last time it happened," Layla prompted and her patient twitched like a frightened warhorse, about to rear up. Some people might be surprised at how shy the eighteen-year-old art student was, given that his gregarious father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter, but Layla's heart went out to him. "Tell me, Carson. I want to help you."

The young man just shoved his hands down into his pockets like he was totally lost in the world. "You're gonna laugh at me."

"No. I only want to help you," Layla said in her most soothing voice, just as everything about her office was meant to soothe. The neutral colors, the soft rug and the nondescript lamps had all been chosen carefully. "I promise, I won't laugh."

Carson stared out the office window and Layla followed his gaze. Her office had a spectacular view of Las Vegas and the mammoth mountain ridges that encircled the city like a fortress, cutting it off from the ordinary world. By daylight, the flat expanse of Vegas seemed almost commonplace with its craggy maze of middling skyscrapers and tired tourists stumbling out of the casinos like bleary-eyed vagrants. But at night, Las Vegas would be different. The lights would sparkle even before darkness chased away dusk. Then the tourists and the gamblers would be gods again, their eyes clear but for the avarice. At night, the visitors and the city's residents would mingle on the streets together to party. There would be an atmosphere of festival, the magic stuff of life. But unless she could help young Carson Tremblay, he would never get to experience anything like that.

"My dad thinks I'm on drugs or just doing it for attention," he said.

"Are you?" Layla asked.

Carson shook his head. "I guess I thought I was just some kind of moody artist who gets off on destroying shit. You know, like those rockers who smash up their guitars? I even wondered if maybe I was allergic to paint. But it doesn't just happen to me in galleries or studios. The last time it happened, I was visiting the Grand Canyon with my family and my girlfriend. Well, she's my ex-girlfriend now. I scared her off with what I did."

"What triggered it?" Layla asked.

Carson's lower lip wobbled. "It wasn't fear of heights or fear of falling down the cliffside, if that's what you're thinking. It's just that when I looked at the enormity of the canyon—the jagged rocks and the water-carved curves—I picked up the tire iron and started swinging it blindly."

It was hard to imagine a gentle soul like Carson Tremblay wielding a tire iron. The young man hadn't hurt anyone, but he'd destroyed his father's car, upset his family, and scared away the girl he loved. "Were you angry, Carson? Did something make you so angry at your father that you'd want to smash his windshield and the headlights?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno. My dad wanted us all to look at it, you know? He's gotta know everything. He's gotta uncover everything. I guess that's his job as a reporter. But I was just staring at the rocks and the scrub. The wildlife and the barrenness. It was everything right and wrong with the world, and my heart started pounding."

Layla's heart started pounding, too. Thinking of the desert. Thinking of the yearning.

"I heard this rush in my ears and I went weak with a cold sweat," Carson said. "I tried to close my eyes, like I couldn't bear to look. It was just too..." He struggled to find the word.

"Beautiful," Layla breathed, finishing for him.

At last, Carson met her eyes. "Yeah. Exactly. Too beautiful. Can things really be too beautiful?"

Layla was sure of it. Things could be too beautiful. Too delicious. Too pleasurable. Desires were dangerous. Passion unlocked things in a person that might otherwise be best left undisturbed and unexamined.

Layla cursed herself. She shouldn't have let her mind go there. Without any real memories of her own, she seldom brought her own issues into therapy. It was one of the reasons she was very good at this, she told herself. One of the reasons she justified keeping her memory loss a secret. This way, it could be all about her clients. She could help people. Heal people. "Carson, you may be suffering from an unusual case of Stendhal Syndrome."

"I looked that up on Google," Carson said, meandering around her office as if he couldn't make himself sit still. He stopped by her bookshelves, running his fingers over the spines of her neatly organized books. "It's where tourists faint or freak out after seeing great works of art, right? But I told you, it doesn't just happen in a studio, and even if it did, I'm an artist. I can't avoid art. I've got an exhibit this week. There's got to be a cure."

Some therapists would recommend a psychiatrist who would almost assuredly prescribe antidepressants, Layla thought. But that would treat his symptoms, not the underlying cause. Besides, she worried about deadening his emotions. She didn't want to turn Carson into someone like her. Someone numb to everything but the fear. Someone who couldn't even remember herself and didn't want to.

"Carson, I think we're going to try something called trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a fancy way of saying that we're going to slowly expose you to the trauma until you have a more balanced perception."

"I don't know what any of that means," Carson said. "But I guess you know what you're talking about. I mean, you must get some real crazies who come in here."

Layla glanced up to see that he'd plucked a piece of paper off of her shelf. Carson handed it to her. "I like to think I'd never really hurt anybody, but if I ever get like the guy who wrote this, I hope you have me locked up."

Layla didn't recognize the note or the handwriting, which spelled out the words in bold strokes upon a slip of paper that was crisp and textured like papyrus. But she recognized a threat when she saw one: I'm always watching you, Layla, and when I come for you, there will be a reckoning.

As she crumpled the note in her hand, her heart hammered so loudly in her chest that she worried her patient would hear it. All this time, she'd been half-convinced that her nighttime rituals of checking her locks were simply what any sensible woman who lived alone would do. But now she knew her dread wasn't imagined. It was all real, scrawled in bold black ink.

He 'd been here. He'd slipped past her vigilant assistant and her locked doors. Whoever he was, he'd been in this very office. And he was coming for her.

It took Layla several long minutes to regain her composure. If she let her mask slip, her patient might see how terrified she was, and it might ruin all the progress they'd made together. "You'll never become like that, Carson, and no one is going to lock you up."

Fortunately, they were interrupted by Layla's efficient—and officious—assistant Isabel who tapped lightly on the door to let them know that the session was over. While Layla tried to hide her shaking hands, Isabel marshaled Carson out of the office, then returned with a cup of tea and the newspaper, folded over to the crossword puzzle.

It was a nice gesture, but Isabel wasn't normally the kind of assistant who catered to her, which meant that Layla must not be hiding her emotions as well as she hoped. "What's the occasion?"

"Feliz cumpleanos!" Isabel crowed, and just like magic, she produced a lone muffin with a lopsided birthday candle on top. "Happy birthday, Dr. Bahset!"

Was it her birthday? Layla fought the urge to check her driver's license, which was the only way she could have known for sure. Layla hadn't celebrated her birthday last year and her confusion must have been obvious, because Isabel added, "And don't fuss at me that you don't like sweets. It's a low-fat bran muffin. Bland and tasteless, just how you like it!"

Layla did prefer bland. Food was just fuel, after all. "Thank you, Isabel. It was so nice of you to remember."

Isabel clucked as she lit the candle atop Layla's bran muffin. "Who else would remember?&#...

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