Dreams are the perfect shelter for our fantasies, safe havens to step inside without changing our daily lives. For Lark Braithwaite, all that is about to change. During the last six months, Lark has dreamt of a mysterious Irish lover, who knows what she wants, and gives her exactly what she needs. In her waking life in busy London, things aren’t as ideal, as her long-term relationship with Charles, her controlling fiancé, has hit a dry spell.
When Lark is called home to Oregon for her father’s funeral right in the middle of a high-stakes corporate merger, she heads back to face the demons from her past. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her dream lover in the flesh. Niall O’Hagan steps straight out of her fantasies and right into her life, and the powerful connection they share rocks her foundation. Although she’s dealing with the bitterness of being betrayed by Charles and his jealousy, Niall soon stirs Lark’s awareness of the superficiality of her existence and reawakens not only her sexuality, but her soul.
At the Heart of the Stone is available with Loose Id (cover art by Dar Albert) by clicking on the following link: At the Heart of the Stone. Please enjoy an excerpt from the novel below.
The next several hours waxed on like a strange dream. Pam came into her bedroom as she was getting ready to leave and showed her a rather long column printed in the local paper. The wording was inside a border, and there was a black-and-white picture of her father in his later years at the top. Her father’s obituary.
Her eyes skimmed over the words “beloved father and husband,” “great outdoorsman,” and a list of his various accomplishments in both business and community. The final paragraph caught her attention.
We have a wonderful opportunity through our actions and words to make a difference in the lives of our family, friends, and strangers. This man did. Rick, we will miss you.
“Who wrote this?” She read over the words again.
“Niall,” Pam replied, brushing Lark’s hair.
“You asked him to write it?”
“He teaches English Lit at the community college once a week, Lark. He and your dad grew close in the last few years. He and Rick hit it off.”
Lark turned back to the clipping and pressed her lips together. So, he was a real nice Irish guy who happened to be a lawyer and an English Lit professor, who also starred nightly in her erotic dreams? Paging Dr. Phil. “Do you think he’s in the will?”
Pam sighed. “No. One thing he made your father promise was not to include him. I think it’s his way of showing respect. He valued their camaraderie too much to get money out of it. He used to help your dad fix everything around here, you know. I don’t know much about him except they grew up poor, so he’s been through quite a bit. He knows a lot about handyman stuff.”
Doing her best not to fantasize about Niall wearing a tool belt, Lark slipped on a bracelet. “Does he have a family himself?” It was ludicrous; she had no right at all to get jealous, especially since she was currently with Charles, but the idea of Niall kissing another woman bothered her.
Pam finished brushing Lark’s hair. “No, he’s single. No kids. Nice-looking man, isn’t he? But then, your Charles is too. He could be a movie star. He reminds me of a young Pierce Brosnan.”
Lark shrugged and feigned indifference.
* * * *
The skies were cold and gray as they rode to the funeral home. The place was overcrowded with cars and SUVs, some parked down the road for lack of space. The service itself was beautiful, and Lark found it easier to get through it by focusing on helping her mother, who broke down a few times. She was doing all right herself, up until Pam got up before the lowering of the coffin and sang “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons”—her and Rick’s song.
Tears formed in Lark’s eyes as she listened to her mother’s beautiful, clear voice, which broke at first but then grew strong. Tears coursed down her face. She did not bother wiping them away. Charles stood at her side, hands clasped in front of him as she cried. It was something she seldom did, but she wished he was better at picking up on emotional cues for once. Aaron took one look at her and walked around Charles. He wrapped her in a warm, tight hug.
Lark was glad when the service was over. She was drained from the heaviness of having to say good-bye, though closure was good to have. At the funeral party, she chatted mundanely over finger sandwiches and was amused to find that there was such a thing as funeral potatoes. She nattered with women and men whose names she’d forgotten five minutes into the conversation, listening to stories about her crazy, “one heck of a guy” dad.
Charles separated from her as they were prone to doing at long social gatherings, and near the end she spotted him in an adjacent room, talking with two colleagues of her father’s and laughing the good-old-boy laugh.
Feeling the need to slip away, she extricated herself from a small chat in its infancy before having to hear again about what a great guy her father had been from a man who’d worked for him at the office in Portland over many years.
Lark retrieved her cigarettes and lighter from the main pocket of her black leather purse that she’d hid behind the desk in her father’s closed office. She slid a cigarette from the pack and headed past several clusters of people as she made her way to the front porch.
Once she’d stepped outside, she cupped her hands over the cigarette, lit it, and drew in a long drag. Peace settled over her as the nicotine did its job. She walked along the porch.
The strong breeze that was blowing had proven a pain in getting the cigarette to light, and it dawned on her in an abstract way how much actual time and effort smoking took. She regarded her cigarette, then shrugged and broke out into a little smile before taking a drag. “Fetishes take effort,” she murmured under her breath.
She heard a noise and looked over her shoulder. Niall came out the front door, briefcase in hand. He eyed her and stopped for a moment, studying her. The attraction in his eyes was palpable. But then he glanced away, appearing to consider the appropriateness of his actions.
“I’ll see you in a bit at my office, Lark.” He gave her a little nod in passing.
“Thank you for coming,” she got out. He should go, and she should let him, but part of her hoped he’d stay.
He descended the steps and then turned back, lifting his head. His eyes were reddened, and she wanted to hug him. “Whatever mistakes your father made in his life, he did right by you.” He adjusted the handle of his laptop case in his palm. “Well, I’ll be on my way. See you later.”
“Bye, Niall,” she said softly. She watched him go. She crushed out her cigarette, no longer wanting it. She needed to lie down for a bit somewhere quiet. She found her mom and told her that she’d be in the office. Once there, she shut the door and lay down on the black leather sofa.
It hurt too much to think of her father. She turned her thoughts to Niall. The dreams were becoming more and more frequent, and she couldn’t hazard a guess as to what they meant, nor did she put much stock in the idea of fate being planned for anyone. Yet, from the moment he’d kissed her, Lark was connected to him, not merely physically, emotionally, or spiritually, but a marriage of the three that let her know, somehow, that he was in her life for a reason. Blurred images began to form of their time together, twisted and shadowed collages of their brief discussions, the vivid dreams she’d been having, and even the wayward glances between them were all being melded into an indiscernible film in her mind.
She sighed and combed her fingers through her hair as she got comfortable. She dozed off, replaying meeting Niall in her mind. As brief as the encounter had been, she wanted him to hold her again, to feel his heartbeat beneath her cheek, his warm skin touching hers. She was asleep almost instantly, and right away, the dream was different…
* * * *
Warm lips were on her neck. Niall’s curls tickled her shoulder as he kissed her. From what little attention she could pay because of his ministrations, she gathered they were in some type of grand ballroom. Opulence was a word that came to mind, a word her father often used during her childhood when telling her bedtime stories of the galaxies and their beauty. She didn’t have much capacity, though, to do anything but melt into Niall’s arms as he embraced her from behind. He caressed her bare shoulders. She was wearing some type of elegant ball gown and some jewelry.
“Lark,” he said warmly, using two fingers to turn her chin up toward him. His eyes glittered like brilliant green gems, and Lark couldn’t think when he looked at her like that.
“I love the way you say my name,” she whispered. He smiled, and his face became a blur as he leaned down to claim her mouth with his.
Niall enveloped her like a huge, warm blanket, kissing her turned face softly at first, peppering kisses on her upper and lower lips as his hand spanned her waist. She was aware of a sort of webbed, silver piece on her head, like a veil, coming over just to the middle of her forehead. She released one hand from the rock-hard muscles of his arms to touch the hairpiece.
“What is this?” she managed between kisses. The metallic nubs were cool beneath her fingers, and there were small, smooth surfaces of gems or diamonds at the interlinked points on it. As the kiss verged on becoming more passionate and Niall’s palms slid along her shoulders, his fingers traced her collarbone. She summoned up all her strength and came up for air. She pulled her lips away from his. “Niall, where are we?”
His breath was ragged when he pressed his forehead against hers. “Together. That’s all that matters, Lark. We’re together. Look.” His large hand cupped her chin, and lifted it slightly. She let out an audible gasp. A few feet away stood a floor-to-ceiling mirror. They were reflected in it, him wearing Roman-era soldier regalia and a scarlet-red cape, she in a silver-colored, exotic gown that complemented his shining armor. She was resplendent and looked like she belonged there. But that wasn’t what startled her. It was the insignia the headpiece formed on her forehead; it was a crown. Was this some type of costume party they were meant to be at?
He leaned toward her ear, his lips brushing the bejeweled lobes as he growled in his husky, melodic voice, “I want you. I’ll never stop wanting you.”
Lark drew in a sharp breath as an image flashed in the mirror’s reflection of them both stark nude and in this same position. His palms were massaging her full breasts, and her head was thrown back as he plunged his hard, thick cock into her pussy from behind. In the mirror, her face reflected sheer ecstasy. Her gaze traveled down to where they were joined together, passion suffusing both their faces as he drove in and out of her hard, his long cock coated with her juices as he slammed back into her. Niall’s hands tightened about her. “This is a mere glimpse of what we could have, Lark,” he whispered in her ear. “And so much more.”
* * * *
She bolted upright on the sofa, her nipples tingling from where he’d touched them, her breath heavy, and her pussy sopping wet.
Charles squatted down next to her, frowning, his eyes narrowed. “Welcome back,” he taunted. “It looks like you took quite the trip.”